Wind Swept Places and Spaces: Communities on The Lincoln Highway

By Taylor Arnold, AHW Intern


This research highlights the buildings and communities that live along a portion of the old Lincoln Highway. From modes of transportation, tourism, and natural resource extraction, this stretch of road from Laramie to Rawlins is home to multiple communities that have been strongly influenced by the characteristics that encapsulate Wyoming and it’s history. This project is a field guide of some sorts. It explores the history and experience of the communities along this route, and points to integral buildings that are commonly out of the public’s view. Nonetheless, these spaces foster aspects of placemaking that have contributed to community building.

This research largely gives focus to the original 1913 Lincoln Highway. The 1916 and 1918 Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway are used for reference. The area of focus begins in the bottom right of the map at Laramie and ends at the …

This research largely gives focus to the original 1913 Lincoln Highway. The 1916 and 1918 Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway are used for reference. The area of focus begins in the bottom right of the map at Laramie and ends at the top left in Rawlins.

The Lincoln Highway Association, 2012-20


A Brief history

The trails that traverse the Wyoming’s landscape are influential not only to the state, but to the collective history of the Nation. The early emigrant trails of the 19th century, mapped out by fur traders and colonizers, set in motion westward expansion. This brought thousands of emigrants across the Great Plains, and into the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming where they settled or diverged to other emigrant trails. This was followed by the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s which connected the rail systems of the eastern United States with the West. Nearly 50 years later, the first coast-to-coast route for automobiles would pave its way across the nation connecting New York City to San Francisco. At the request of Henry Joy, President of Packard Motor Car Company, the route was to be named after Abraham Lincoln to capture a sense of patriotic appeal. [1] The Lincoln Highway Association officially dedicated the route on October 31st, 1913, and it was a day worth celebrating in Wyoming. In his proclamation on the highways dedication Wyoming Governor, Joseph Carey states:

“It is thought especially fitting that on the evening of October 31 there should be an old-time jollification to include bonfires and general rejoicing: this for the purpose of impressing upon the people-and especially the younger generation- the service and unselfish life of Lincoln, and for the further purpose of painting a picture, so far as amusements are concerned, of the highway which is to cross our state.”[2]

This national event marked a substantial change in mobility across the United States as the automobile became a thing of necessity as opposed to luxury. Over the decade the 3,389-mile road would be repaired and realigned to shorten its distance, creating multiple generations of roads. Eventually the highway was broken up into segments, and when named highways became too confusing to organize, a number system was implemented and a majority of the Lincoln Highway would come to be known as Highway 30. A full map of the original route and its realignments can be found on the Lincoln Highway Associations website.

Today, cross-country road trips are imbedded into the American psyche. It has been the plot in numerous movies that encapsulate ideas about the “American dream”. Multiple interstates reaching across the country make this possible. Interstate 80, the second longest interstate in the United States, traverses through the whole southern portion of Wyoming. It roughly follows the path of the 1913 dedication of the Lincoln highway, however, a major deviation from the path is found between the towns of Laramie and Rawlins. Here I-80 was constructed to the south of the Lincoln Highway in what became a source of major controversy. John Waggener discusses the deep history of this deviation in his book, Snow Chi Minh Trail: This History of Interstate 80 Between Laramie and Walcott Junction. This stretch of interstate is commonly known as a “monument to human error”, and its grand opening on October 3, 1970, signaled a new reality for the bypassed communities along Highway 30. [3] Waggener states, “Owners of filling stations and motels had just lost their largest customer base, and their fate was sealed.”[13] The communities along the Lincoln Highway in this section of Wyoming were swept into a new fate. One that would ultimately shape their characteristics and perceptions against the windswept landscape of Wyoming. 


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As the Lincoln Highway continued toward the northwest, travelers in the early 20th century may have encountered a number of sites used by the Union Pacific Railroad. Occasionally these sites could offer water for drinking or for overheated radiators, but not much else until they reached the next town of Rock River.



The Lincoln Highway Association, 2012-20.

The Lincoln Highway Association, 2012-20.

At this point, the current Highway 30 meets with Interstate 80 at Walcott Junction. While the following towns of Sinclair and Rawlins were not included in the interstates deviation, they serve as meaningful sites for Carbon County and the Lincoln Highway.



The communities along this portion of the Lincoln Highway serve as a reminder to Wyoming’s history. From the still bustling streets of Laramie, the quaint cafe of Rock River, the towering Virginian Hotel in Medicine bow and the vibrant history of Hanna, Wyoming, these spaces and places embody the spirit of Wyoming. The transcontinental railroad sought to bridge a nation divided, and along its path these humble towns spurred up and filled with folks looking to stake a claim. These places remain to be humble today, and I am convinced that it must be in their roots. During my field work I met an assortment of folks living in these towns who offered me kindness and support. I was lucky to have meaningful conversation with people who have spent their entire life in these places and they wouldn’t have it any other way. These experiences not only solidified my belief that Wyoming is filled with kind people, but it also gave me insight into spaces that are often overlooked. The decision to bypass these towns with the construction of Interstate-80 did propose economic hardship, however, it also speaks to the continued resilience of these places. The community members I spoke with echoed this in their reflections about their community. Many described their communities as a place of partnership, and they all expressed their appreciation for living in spaces that exert freedom.

I encourage any traveller making their way through Wyoming to take the quick detour on Highway 30 between Laramie and Rawlins. In fact, taking this route only adds on 15 minutes to your journey. Not only do you get to travel along the historic Lincoln Highway, you also get to experience foundational communities that are dotted along this windswept landscape known as Wyoming.

Acknowledgments

A huge thank you is in order to the various individuals and organizations who have been incredibly helpful in the formation of this research. They include:

Rin Kasckow, Executive Director of the Alliance for Historic Wyoming

Doc Thissen, local Wyoming photographer

Sharon Biamon, Managing Director at the Medicine Bow Museum and Mayor of Medicine Bow

Vickie & Vernon Scott, Owners of the Virginian Hotel

Sunshine Solaas, Museum Director at the Hanna Basin Museum

Ashlee James, Registrar at the Carbon County Museum

The Lincoln Highway Association, and the numerous online resources available on their website.

The American Studies Program at the University of Wyoming, who were integral in my opportunity to intern with the Alliance for Historic Wyoming.

And the countless individuals that took the time to speak with me, offer me resources and point me in the right direction. I greatly appreciate all your help.

References

  1. Origins of the Lincoln Highway by James Lin https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/history/

  2. The Wyoming Tribune no. 260, October 30, 1913, page 1. The Wyoming Newspaper Project. https://pluto.wyo.gov/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1

  3. Waggener R, John. Snow Chi Minh Trail: The History of Interstate 80 Between Laramie and Walcott Junction. Wheatland, WY: Wyoming State Historical Society, (2017).

  4. Viner, Kim. “Laramie’s World War I Memorial”, (2017) Wyohistory.org. https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/laramies-world-war-i-memorial

  5. Evolution of Roads Across Southern Wyoming By Kris A. White  http://wyomingalmanac.com/readings_in_wyoming_history_5th_edition/evolution_of_roads_across_wyoming_by_kris_white

  6. “Bosler, Wyoming”, (2014) Doc’s Pix. http://ddocspix.blogspot.com/2014/01/bosler-wyoming_3491.html

  7. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. First National Bank of Rock River. Section 8. Page 1, Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/370-first-national-bank-of-rock-river

  8. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. First National Bank of Rock River. Section 8. Page 2. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/370-first-national-bank-of-rock-river

  9. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. First National Bank of Rock River. Section 8. Page 4, Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/370-first-national-bank-of-rock-river

  10. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Virginian Hotel. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/507-virginian-hotel

  11. Nesbitt D, John. “Owen Wister: Inventor of the Good-guy Cowboy” (2014) Wyohistory.org. https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/owen-wister-inventor-good-guy-cowboy

  12. Mickelson T, Nancy. “A Territorial Empire: The Trabings and their Freight” (2020) Wyohistory.org https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/territorial-empire-trabings-and-their-freight

  13. “Hanna Happenings”, Hanna Basin Museum. https://www.hannabasinmuseum.com

  14. THE HANNA MINER: At the Bottom of the Mine, Bob Leathers’ Notebook. https://www.hannabasinmuseum.com/hanna-happenings.html

  15. Rawlins Republican, February 01, 1910, page 21. The Wyoming Newspaper Project. https://pluto.wyo.gov/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1

  16. Rawlins Republican no. 96, December 04, 1901, page 6. The Wyoming Newspaper Project. https://pluto.wyo.gov/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1

  17. Parco (Sinclair) Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form. Section 7, Pg. 2. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/494-parco-sinclair-historic-district

  18. Parco (Sinclair) Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form (1987). Section 8, Pg. 3. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/494-parco-sinclair-historic-district

  19. Parco (Sinclair) Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form (1987). Section 7, pg. 3. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/494-parco-sinclair-historic-district

  20. “Ready for Restoration” (2020) Rawlins Times https://www.rawlinstimes.com/news/local/ready-for-restoration/article_57d25e03-fe84-55dd-a2ba-0ff373640723.html

  21. Downtown Rawlins Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form https://wyoshpo.wyo.gov/index.php/programs/national-register/wyoming-listings/view-full-list/428-downtown-rawlins-historic-district

  22. Carbon County Museum. https://www.carboncountymuseum.org

  23. Woods, Joshua. “New direction for historical building” (2020) The Saratoga Sun. https://www.saratogasun.com/story/2020/09/09/news/new-direction-for-historical-building/9645.html