Lincoln Highway makes for historic travels in San Joaquin County!

Lincoln Highway sign on Maple, just off the Miracle Mile, Stockton.

History comes alive on Lincoln Highway; exciting and gourmet travels in SJ County!

I recently noticed red, white and blue Lincoln Highway signs popping up in Stockton, so I tracked down local Lincoln Highway historian Kevin Shawver to learn more about the historic highway and to plot a tour of its route through San Joaquin County.

Kevin Shawver stands beneath Lincoln Highway sign in Stockton.

Kevin noted the vast changes that the introduction of the automobile visited on our country, which accelerated when Henry Ford introduced the hugely popular and inexpensive Model T Ford in 1908.  Sales took off, and within a few years many Americans were plotting day-long and longer drives across the nation’s patchwork-quilt of roads, many unpaved.

Kevin noted that “the Lincoln Highway was once called the ‘Main Street across America’. Opening in 1913, the highway invigorated many smaller to midsized towns, bringing road improvements, roadside attractions, hotels, motels and restaurants, billboards and enhanced traffic to cities on the route.

It started in New York City’s Times Square, and wended its way westward, 3,389 miles to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The highway was the longest ‘thing’ in America, and was the first US memorial to President Lincoln, preceding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The highway helped inspired the term ‘tin can tourists’ – in the early century, gas had to be purchased in hardware stores or at auto dealers – there were very few gas stations. Tourists would discard the empty cans along the highway, leading to the term ‘tin can tourists’”.

The Lincoln Highway debuted in 1913, wending its way west from New York City to San Francisco (map courtesy of Lincoln Highway Association).

Lincoln Highway was cobbled together from existing highways and byways in 1913; the original route came through Sacramento, then turned south, heading through Woodbridge, Stockton, Lathrop, French Camp, Tracy and over the Altamont pass to San Francisco. Several realignments would later fine-tune the route, made primarily to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings.

One realignment shifted the route in our north county over to Highway 99, running down Cherokee through Lodi, though it has always run through Stockton. With the opening of the Carquinez Straight Bridge in 1927, the highway was realigned along a route roughly paralleling I-80, and traffic eased in San Joaquin County.

The Lincoln Highway's original route through California, neatly bisecting San Joaquin County (map courtesy of Lincoln Highway Association).

To tour the San Joaquin County route, a great place to start is at the historic marker at Lincoln and A Streets in Galt. From the monument, head south on Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge, with several substantial brick buildings pre-dating the original Lincoln Highway opening.  Woodbridge not only retains deep historical character with buildings dating back to the 1860s, it’s a gourmet’s delight.

The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall in Woodbridge, now home to Cactus Restaurant, anchored the Lincoln Highway's route through Woodbridge.

Here you will find restaurants like Woodbridge Crossing, a steakhouse in a brick building which dates to the end of the Civil War, 1865, Cactus, in the 1873 International Order of Odd Fellows Hall and the newest sensation, Woodbridge Uncorked, featuring fine wines, craft brews and delicious food by noted caterer Heather Lea. Across the street is the Woodbridge Inn.

History lives on at Woodbridge Uncorked in Woodbridge.

Continue on Lower Sacramento Road south from Woodbridge, which becomes Pacific Avenue in Stockton (Lower Sacramento was renamed Pacific to commemorate the opening of University of Pacific in Stockton in 1925). The Lincoln Highway helped turn the character of Pacific, once lined only with residences, into the Miracle Mile, a bustling commercial corridor due to the new automobile traffic. From Pacific, go one block west to 309 N. Regent, a lovely, historic home with flowing-roof, built on Pacific when it was all residential. As the commercial district began to grow, the home was moved several blocks to its current location.

Shawver notes, “The Miracle Mile district offers a host of restaurants for an historical stop (in buildings which existed at the time), including Midtown Creperie, Sam’s Café (originally a Scott’s Grocery during the highway’s time), stop for libation at Valley Brew just off the highway, or, stop for a snack at La Palma (originally, it’s banquet room was the Milky Way Malt Shop, an early fixture on the highway). The foyer of La Palma Restaurant features a number of historic Lincoln Highway photos, including several of the brand new Tuxedo Park (the first housing development north of Harding)”.

This notable, historic home at 309 N. Regent, Stockton, was originally built on Pacific Avenue. As traffic from the Lincoln Highway helped transform Pacific into a commercial corridor, the home was moved several blocks to its new location.

From Pacific, turn east on Maple and follow the highway route to El Dorado, then south, becoming Center Street, taking you into the center of old Stockton, where the grand Hotel Stockton (circa 1910) was a route highlight. For fine dining, try Bella Vista Restaurant in the hotel, or for breakfast or lunch, Casa Flores is a good choice, just one block east on Weber.

The Hotel Stockton was one of the grand hotels along the Lincoln Highway, now home to Bella Vista Restaurant.

The highway continued south on El Dorado (now Center Street), where it headed southwest on Turnpike, towards French Camp (where a few historic buildings lie moldering away), through Lathrop and into historic downtown Tracy on 11th Street, then followed Grant Line Road west and up over the Altamont Pass, headed to San Francisco.

So, pile the family into that “tin Lizzie” and follow the route of the Lincoln Highway through San Joaquin County!

For more information: Lincoln Highway, lincolnhighwayassoc.org; Visit Stockton, visitstockton.org/about-us/Lincoln-highway/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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