Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First


Historic Road Through County Named 'National Scenic Byway'

The Lincoln Highway, much of which mirrors U.S. Highway 30, has recently been named as a National Scenic Byway. In mid-February, the Federal Highway Administration announced 49 new designations to the America's Byways collection, including Nebraska's 450-mile-long border to border Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway.

The Lincoln Highway was America's first transcontinental highway. There are a variety of stories of people making the trek cross-country along this byway, including an army truck caravan sent from New York City all the way to San Francisco to show the importance of getting a paved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In 1913, when the Lincoln Highway was completed, it averaged 20-30 days to complete the drive – that was counting on the average speed being about 18 miles per hour. Today, it would take less than a week, without stops of course. But who wants to drive a National Scenic Byway without stopping to check out the sights??

In Kimball County alone, the eastbound Lincoln Highway takes you through the village of Bushnell, past the beautiful Oliver Reservoir, next to the historic irrigation flumes, past fields of corn, wheat, and sugar beets, through downtown Kimball, travels past the former town of Jacinto, and finds the town of Dix on the east side of the county.

The original Lincoln Highway meandered a little more than Highway 30 does. From the Wyoming border, it followed along U.S. 30 east, then turned north through the two tunnels under the railroad tracks on the west side of Bushnell, through town, out past the Bushnell cemetery, and stayed on the north side of the tracks until it went back under the tracks near the creek just under three miles west of Kimball. It then followed Highway 30 to Kimball, but again veered north onto 1st street near the Kimball cemetery until it turned south on Chestnut Street – bringing it through downtown Kimball. It again turned east on 3rd Street, to follow todays Highway 30 and also included an unpaved, dirt portion of the Lincoln Highway next to the tracks, eastbound to Dix.

There are a variety of articles and books that center around the Lincoln Highway. One book that is special to Kimball, is "The Lincoln Highway: Nebraska" by Gregory M. Franzwa. Mr. Franzwa planned to write a book for each state that the Lincoln Highway passes through, but unfortunately, he passed away before he finished this project. He did, however, publish the Nebraska edition in 1996. While working on this book, he spoke with Kimball's own Joan Knapp to get information about the Lincoln Highway here in Kimball County. Joan assisted Gregory with mapping of the originally highway through the county. She had mapped out the path that area old-timers remembered, which helped with his research for the book. She also gave him a book of hers that further assisted in his efforts.

Franzwa also writes about the pride that Kimball took in having the Lincoln Highway come through town. In early 1914, 400 trees were planted along 3rd Street to beautify the route. Several of those trees can be seen on the south side of the highway on the grounds of the Plains Historical Society museum, the former Kimball County High School. Later that year, every fifth telephone post was marked with a Lincoln Highway sign. In 1915, there were rumors that the highway was going to be rerouted at Big Springs to go to Denver, rather than keep the route through Kimball and Cheyenne. Men from Kimball took up a job of 'logging the road from Big Springs'. 'They handed out maps and went to Big Springs to direct tourists over the proper route,' says the 1915 Observer article. 'The businessmen and the county commissioners also got out their gloves and went out on the road with spades and shovels to knock off the bumps and fill in the small holes.'

The Lincoln Highway has continued to be an important piece of history and tourism for the small towns that it runs through, but with this national designation it will allow a renewed spirit of travel through Kimball County and the entirety of Nebraska.

You can see sunrises and sunsets, as well as moon rises and the milky way arcing above you. You can watch a herd of antelope grazing peacefully next to the highway and a bald eagle majestically floating on the breeze above you. You can hear crickets chirping and meadowlarks singing their melodious songs. You can watch the light creep above the horizon and feel the warmth of the sun gently kiss your skin. You can see storm clouds rolling in for miles and watch the lightning dance to the drumrolls of thunder. You can find peace on the open road, and the Lincoln Highway is the perfect place to start. Drive away your worries on this amazing National Scenic and Historic Byway.

We are blessed to live where this byway intersects our hometowns. If you haven't driven the 450 miles of the Lincoln Highway through Nebraska, I suggest you do – you might just find a hidden gem along the way and make some lasting memories while you're at it.


Jessica Rocha

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