On the Road Again: In Search of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, Part THREE

As it grew light I was eager to leave the charmless motel outside of Trenton, with its broken security lock and lack of any coffee anywhere. Having determined the first day of this adventure that I could not make New York nor much of New Jersey in the allotted time, I was now heading back, hoping to catch most of what I had missed eastbound in the dark. The weather continued fine and I poked about Trenton for a bit, bumping into the William Trent House, built in 1719–yes, how the town got its name–while trying to make my way across the Delaware River on the right bridge into Pennsylvania. This proved difficult. I saw the famous “Trenton Makes – The World Takes” bridge but could not figure out how to get on it and back on the Lincoln Highway. I had found it in Trenton but lost it crossing the Delaware (where is General Washington when you need him?)

The William Trent House, Trenton, New Jersey

Some of the problem was that I was completely unfamiliar with the territory, and I was trying find something that, for the most part, barely exists–especially in urban areas. There are clues, yes, but no flashing signs proclaiming “Lincoln Highway this way” (and I wouldn’t want there to be, but subtle signage might be nice). I’m good with maps but they were all inadequate, and I could not follow the Association’s online map while driving. Indeed, having a navigator would have been helpful, but this was a solo trip. In truth the Lincoln Highway experience is nearly impossible in certain built-up regions, even for those adventurers who are capable of seeing the ghosts of the past. 

Highway 1 these days northeast of Philadelphia is an expressway running through miles of wetland, or so it appeared. Apparently I was not far from Levittown, the second of the fabled post-World War II suburbs of that name. I tried several times to get off the expressway and get onto the old highway that I was more or less paralleling, but I always instead found myself in little bits of upscale newer suburbia nestled on higher ground. Although often accused of “having a map in [my] head,” I’m afraid my geography was a little hazy there. Maybe I had some vague notion that Philadelphia was on the coast–I suppose because of the Navy Yard where my father’s ship, the USS Dayton, was built during the War–but of course New Jersey is in the way. (The shipyard, what’s left of it, is on the Delaware River.) But after crossing into Pennsylvania nearly all I could see for many miles was that wetland–or flood plain plus tidewater? I appreciate General Washington’s feat even more.

Broad Street, Philadelphia

Eventually I did get back on the Lincoln Highway as I approached Philadelphia proper on US 1/Roosevelt Boulevard. The architecture grew interesting as I got deeper into the city.
The Lincoln Highway books mentioned a few surviving landmarks from the early days, but traffic on Broad Street was really too hectic to take note of any. Because of the traffic and construction and one-way streets I missed even glimpses of any of the historic sites I had briefly visited here decades ago, although I did make a westward turn at the gargantuan City Hall. Completed in 1901, it is the largest city hall in the country and at the top boasts a huge statue of William Penn by Alexander Calder.

Philadelphia City Hall, Broad Street and Market

The city was much different from my 30-year-old memory. I finally, with a little help, found Lancaster Avenue–imagine where that heads–which is Lincoln Highway heading out of the center city. (When I stopped to ask where Lancaster Avenue was, people persisted in asking “where are you going?” when, of course, it was the way that I was seeking.) I was delighted to see that there were lines above and tracks for electric trolleys, which I’d not seen anywhere for years. Some of the neighborhoods I passed through seemed dreadfully poor, dotted with wonderful 19th century buildings in terrible shape.

Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia

These gave way to tree-filled suburbs in full autumnal splendor and names of storied institutions come to life: Bryn Mawr and Villanova, whose buildings resembled those of Notre Dame that I know so well. Both Catholic universities, they were founded the same year, 1842. I was famished by this time and desperate for a diner when one appeared in Wayne. Minella’s turned out to be a newer diner but it had replaced an older one on the same site. Its menu rivaled War and Peace in length but the place  felt right enough, although quite large.

interior, Minella’s, Wayne, Pennsylvania

My hunger satisfied I hit the road once again and for some miles it was lovely, but the closer I got to Lancaster the more congested it became. 

looking west on Lincoln Highway somewhere west of Wayne, Pennsylvania

Downingtown, Coatesville, and towns far smaller looked worth exploring but the traffic was discouraging. I did pass intriguing roadside attractions, many with a “Dutch” theme, and several more diners, many closed but some open.

Coatesville, Pennsylvania
former Dutch Haven restaurant, east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania

But I stopped at none, for I was feeling road stress again with constant traffic. I reached the bypass around Lancaster and took it all the way to York. November days are short, and anyway, I had been on the old route through both towns eastbound only two days before.

Wish I could have stopped at this nearby diner

I had arranged to stop and see a Facebook friend–what a world!–who lives in York and has essentially a private museum of old radio/TV/movie stuff. It’s a pretty spectacular collection and it was tough to leave both her and the cool things to see, but once again, miles to go before I could sleep.

photo of 1930s sex symbol Jean Harlow, my mother’s favorite

It was dark, and knowing what hairpins and spirals lurked in the mountains west beyond York, I elected to head north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (the expressway that put the Lincoln Highway out of business) and exit at Bedford, only a few miles from the Lincoln Motor Court where I would spend the night again. The turnpike was farther north than I thought and there was much construction, especially around the many tunnel entrances.

Endless tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Exhausted, I got off at Bedford and, despite my having wandered around the town quite a bit only two days before, was completely lost. And there is nothing like dark in the mountains. (Well, all right, yes, I have been deep inside caves.) I finally spotted something I recognized and got back on track, which is to say, the Lincoln Highway, which brought me back to the Lincoln Motor Court. A different cabin this time, but a bed just as welcome and comfy. Ahh. Tomorrow was another day.

Cabin 11, Lincoln Motor Court

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