Nebraska is one of the states chosen to host a portion of the Lincoln Highway – the first transcontinental highway in the United States. US Highway 30 runs the entire state, from Blair on the east side to past Sidney, near the Wyoming border.
The Nebraska section of Highway 30 is among the longest in the country, about 450 miles. We broke up our trek along the highway into short trips, combining visits on vacation and business trips. Among the cities we visited were Blair, Fremont, Grand Island, Columbus, Kearney, North Platte and Sutherland. We had originally thought about only going as far west as Columbus.
There are two ways to consider the Highway 30 entrance into eastern Nebraska. Originally, it ran through Omaha and the old Elkhorn town limits. Once it was rerouted. Highway 30 was a straight drive from Missouri valley, Iowa, to Blair, the first city in Nebraska on the highway.
If you look at both approaches, the area has interesting attractions. In Omaha, the Old Market area provided a back drop for Highway 30.
A short jaunt from the historic retail and entertainment district is the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge. This is one of my favorite attractions in Omaha. It connects Nebraska and Iowa via the longest pedestrian bridge covering two states in the country. It’s the centerpiece to the Omaha riverfront area.
Heading west of town, you’ll find a section of the original Lincoln Highway in Elkhorn. It’s brick covered and bears the Lincoln Highway marker.
Following the rerouting of Highway 30, visitors to Blair are welcomed by the American Legion’s salute to Washington County veterans. People who enlisted during the time they lived there have their name inscribed on the monument. One of my older brothers is listed among the hundreds of names. We need to have a second brother added.
Blair is also home to John Neihardt Park. It has a tribute to Black Elk, a noted Dakota spiritual man. The Tower of the Four Winds stands tall over the park.
My hometown is located along the Lincoln Highway. Kennard is a small village, with about 300 people. Main Street is a couple of blocks long. The old schoolhouse burned down. Its bell remains in what is now a park.
My eldest sister and her family live in Arlington. The community is home to the Washington County Fair every summer.
Fremont is the first large city along Lincoln Highway in Nebraska. The city of about 25,000 is the county seat for Dodge County. The city is named after Civil War veteran General John C. Fremont. The community hosts an annual “John C. Fremont Days” celebration. A statue of President Lincoln was donated to Fremont in 1921 and is located at a downtown park.
Traveling about 40 miles farther west, Columbus is the hometown of Andrew Higgins. Higgins is the man who designed the landing craft used during World War II to ferry soldiers to land during the D-Day invasion at Normandy beach in France. It was also used during landings in North Africa. General Dwight D. Eisenhower credited Higgins’ invention with playing a critical role during WWII.
Grand Island is the fourth largest city in Nebraska. Its mark on the Lincoln Highway is legendary. It was the second city along the original route to establish a “seedling mile.” Cities along the route were asked to pave the first mile to their city. The highway was then routed to their community.
Burma Shave would post wooden signs along the highway promoting the shaving cream. Grand Island’s memorial to its original mile features some of the signs.
Kensingers is one of the few remaining full service gas stations along the Lincoln Highway.
Grand Island is home to the great actor Henry Fonda. He starred in movies, such as “The Grapes of Wrath.” His childhood home is on display at the Stuhr Museum campus.
Continuing along Highway 30, Kearney offers visitors a couple of unique looks at the past.
The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument provides a look at history along the Platte River, dating back to the days of Native Americans. It looks at the westward migration of pioneers.
Eventually, a look at travel along the Lincoln Highway and what it brought is examined. Camping, motels, rest stops and restaurants helped move traffic along the transcontinental highway.
Kearney is home to the Classic Car Collection museum along Highway 30. The museum has more than 150 cars. The cars were donated by a man who wanted to keep the cars together. The collection is presented in different styles, including using murals of downtowns as backdrops, a drive-in and a gas station.
North Platte is home to Buffalo Bill Cody. That’s evident in the attractions bearing his name – Buffalo Bill’s Scout Ranch State Park (site of his home), Cody Park and Fort Cody trading post (home of souvenirs). Each one of these spots has to be visited when checking out North Platte.
The 20th Century Veterans Memorial just south of town is one of the best military memorials in the United States. It rivals anything in Washington, DC. It also honors civilians who volunteered their time to greet and support soldiers and sailors traveling through town during World War II. The Canteen, as it was known at the train depot, greeted about six million military members during the war.
We stayed at an Air BNB in Sutherland during a previous trip, and really liked a mural along the highway.
Paxton is home to Oly’s. The restaurant is famous for its stuffed animals. Not on the menu, silly. The walls and floor are lined with stuffed animals killed during hunting trips and safaris over the years. You can see a polar bear under glass (for its protection. Too many people were rubbing its fur), giraffe, as well as bison and even primates.
My goal is to finish the last leg of the Lincoln Highway in Nebraska to the Wyoming border. In the meantime, if you have a chance to drive along the first transcontinental highway in the United States, enjoy the ride and make sure you take in the sites. Safe travels.
For more information on Nebraska’s section of Highway 30, please visit www.lincolnhighwaynebraskabyway.com.