Students, history buffs celebrate Lincoln Highway route in Sugar House
When Hawthorne Elementary sixth-grader Virginia Mogzec began studying historic signs in Sugar House as part of her Neighborhood Extended Learning Program class, she had never heard of the Lincoln Highway.
She talked about what she had learned about the historic road moments after she and her classmates watched a Lincoln Highway sign posted in the heart of Sugar House Tuesday. It seems they have become experts on the nation's first transcontinental highway.
"I didn't know a lot about it until this year and I learned a lot," she said. "My dad and I would love to tour the old Lincoln Highway. People should learn more about it."
Hawthorne student Josh Hartvigsen explained that the road connected New York and San Francisco as he stood on the monument square at about 1100 E. 2100 South.
Duane Carling, Utah state president of the Lincoln Highway Association, said the 3,389-mile long highway conceived by businessman and auto racer Carl Fisher came into the Salt Lake Valley through Parleys Canyon. A Utah Historical Society photo shows workers from the Automobile Club of Southern California installing the historic cement road signs near Suicide Rock at the mouth of the Canyon on what was then a dirt road.
The road then came down 2100 South through the heart of Sugar House, turned on State Street to 3300 South and then headed west through Magna before entering Tooele County.
"Utah had a reputation for having the worst roads and the most corrupt politicians," said Carling about the history of the highway, which was initially funded by private industry, wealthy entrepreneurs and state governments.
Long-time Sugar House activist and unofficial area historian Lynne Olson said Hawthorne's Kids Organized to Protect Our Environment club became involved with the Lincoln Highway as part of a community problem solving competition.
They were working to change a Salt Lake City ordinance so historic Sugar House signs such as the roto sphere over the old Granite Furniture store, the old Snelgroves Ice Cream Cone and the Nu Crisp popcorn store neon sign could be saved.
She said that since the Lincoln Highway came through Sugar House, the area began to develop as a commercial center to take advantage of the traffic from the road.
"This is the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway," said the students' teacher Sheri Sohm. "There needed to be a sign. So we worked with the Lincoln Highway Association.
With a number of Lincoln Highway Association members such as High Coltharp who brought his mint-condition Ford Model T emblazoned with Lincoln Highway signs and license plates on hand for the event, the first sign was placed on a lamppost by Carling.
Coltharp has driven the Model T across the West Desert portion of the highway for a Public Broadcast System documentary. That rough, mostly dirt track along the old Pony Express Trail remains one of the most authentic stretches of the highway, which ceased being an officially designated automobile route in 1928 when the federal highway system was established.
When the iconic Sugar House Monument is redesigned, organizers will place a more iconic cement historic Lincoln Highway sign on the square.