PITTSBURGH — For my Lincoln Highway journey, having Internet access via my smartphone and computer has been and will continue to be a great tool. Although I’m going across country without turn-by-turn GPS navigation — why pay for it when I have it in my brain’s spatial orientation and navigation skills for free? — I have the Internet to help me research what I want to see and where I want to go. This includes eating along the way.
When I wanted to find a good local spot for lunch on Thursday while checking out Pittsburgh’s historic Auto Row along Baum Boulevard — which is part of the Lincoln Highway’s original route — I turned to Yelp. Crowdsourcing local knowledge has been critical to the success of Yelp and similar user-generated tools.
In this case, I ended up at YinzBurgh BBQ, a 16-month-old Southern-style barbecue joint in a city not known for its barbecue.
It was a great find and something I likely would not have checked out if I was simply driving by. (I probably would have gone around the corner to Chipotle.) I spent some time chatting with YinzBurg BBQ’s owner, Richard Coursey, about my trip and his place, which offers up some great food, I might add. (YinzBurgh’s smoked meats come sauceless. Coursey’s philosophy is that sauce should be on the side and not overpower the meat itself. He has a variety of housemade sauces inspired by different barbecue traditions and he’ll be more than happy to give you a thorough introduction to YinzBurgh’s offerings.)
As I was eating some delicious barbecue and collards, I was thinking about how anyone traveling on the Lincoln Highway when it opened — or for that matter until the recent proliferation of smartphones and crowdsourcing tools like Yelp — were at a disadvantage when they drove into an unfamiliar place. Their options were limited to what was easily accessible along the road.
But as long-haul automobile travel became more economically accessible to the average American, national chains developed targeting motorists looking for familiarity. Howard Johnson’s was an early leader in this regard. Later, fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King popped up all over the nation, aided by the opening of Interstate Highway System.
And that brings me back to Baum Boulevard’s Auto Row itself and how the Lincoln Highway’s history is intertwined with this corridor a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
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This part of Pittsburgh was already a hub for the auto industry. A series of historic information panels on the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant and showroom at Baum Boulevard and Morewood Avenue tell the history of Pittsburgh’s automobile industry. In addition to auto manufacturing, Baum Boulevard became home to numerous car dealerships and auto repair services.
The Lincoln Highway brought long-haul travelers right through the center of Pittsburgh’s automobile hub. While the Lincoln Highway’s route was eventually realigned to the south along Forbes Avenue and Boulevard of the Allies, Baum Boulevard remained a center for the local automobile sector. And although the number of auto dealerships declined, there are still a few that call Baum Boulevard home.
And now, there also a great barbecue joint, too.