On the Old Forbes Road And Over the Mountains

2013-06-05 16.06.56

This Lincoln Highway-themed gas station pump sits outside the Historic Texas Lunch in Chambersburg, Pa. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

PITTSBURGH — It’s already abundantly clear that I’m not going to be able stop off and see — and photograph — everything that I would want to along the Lincoln Highway. That became evident yesterday as I was racing from Gettysburg to make it to the Flight 93 memorial in Somerset County before its 6:30 p.m. closing. I breezed through Breezewood, which is not that scenic, but also through places like Chambersburg, the town burned in a July 30, 1864, Confederate raid where I hopped out for literally 30 seconds to snap a photo of the highly decorated gas pump you see here.

But if this is a preview of what the highway offers as I go west, then there’ll be plenty for me to see.

The route through the mountains is naturally beautiful and largely empty, dotted with plenty of aging and artistically repurposed gas pumps, bucolic barns with Lincoln Highway murals, breathtaking mountain-top vistas of the valleys below, and plenty of 19th century buildings from the pre-Lincoln Highway days, when this was this was the primary — but rough — road across Pennsylvania.

This route, in part, follows the old Forbes Road, which was originally cut through the mountains during the French and Indian War to help supply British forces targeting the French at Fort Duquesne, where modern Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. The Forbes Road, like so many other early American roads, followed ancient paths worn by generations of Native Americans, in this case the Allegheny Path. Along the way, you’ll spot plenty of historic markers related to the Forbes Road and its chain of forts, like Ligonier, Bedford and Loudoun.

According to “Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America,” the British general, John Forbes, paved the way for future generations of westward settlers:

What Forbes hacked out of the forest could hardly be called a road, but after the defeat of the French the new land to the west beckoned, and Forbes Road became the backbone of this important route.

By 1818 stone-surfaced turnpikes had been built all the way to Pittsburgh, drawing a swelling flow of settlers across the mountains to fill the Ohio Valley.

The first section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940 between Carlisle and Irwin, bypassed the Lincoln Highway. Local portions of the Lincoln Highway route were bypassed overtime in places like Bedford and Everett, where the expressway-like byway is named, naturally, for Bud Shuster, the legendary road-loving Republican congressman who used to represent this part of Pennsylvania. This relatively short bypass at Everett is not to be confused with Interstate 99, another Shuster project that’s officially designated as the Bud Shuster Highway.

Shuster, you see, like Sen. Robert Byrd, the legendary West Virginia Democrat, was an expert at steering federal funding to local road projects.

The Washington Post, in a 1998 investigation into Shuster, illustrated the congressman’s power of pulling in the pork:

With the 1991 highway bill, Shuster achieved an apotheosis of sorts: He increased Pennsylvania’s take from the federal highway trust funds and had so much money earmarked for so many projects in his district – road widenings, pedestrian crossings, new buses, access roads, interchanges and the Bud Shuster Highway – that other legislators were getting jealous. When reporters asked Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) which state had received the most in targeted funds, he replied: “The state of Altoona.”

One of the more impressive sights along the Lincoln Highway in this part of Pennsylvania is a more modern creation. After I crossed a mountain ridge from Bedford County into Somerset County, I found myself in a sea of wind turbines that rise high above the treetops.

When you’re traveling through Somerset County, an area that has a high concentration of wind farms, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, you catch a relatively quick glimpse of some wind turbines. But via the Lincoln Highway, you’re treated to wind farm forest. Some people find wind turbines ugly but I am not one of them. I wish I would have stopped to take a few photos in this striking landscape.

I could probably spend another day exploring this particular section of the road again. Fortunately, I travel through this part of Pennsylvania at least once a year, so it’ll be a welcome diversion off the Pennsylvania Turnpike on future trips.

In the meantime, I’ve gathered some Creative Commons-licensed photos via Flickr of the route I traveled from Gettysburg to Pittsburgh.


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  1. Pingback: A Quick Fast Forward to the Western Terminus | The Lincoln Highway Guide

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