(Editor’s note: This is part one of an eight-part series to be published once a month, recognizing significant milestones over Evanston’s 150-year history.)
EVANSTON — This year, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of Evanston. In honor of this milestone, the Evanston Preservation Commission will submit articles of events that shaped the history of our community.
Builders of the Union Pacific Railroad reached what is now Evanston in December 1868. There have been many chapters that have shaped the character and building of our town since that blustery winter day when the ties and rails were laid along the Bear River.
This article will cover the impact the Lincoln Highway had in the early history of Evanston. This event is second to the arrival of the Union Pacific but, nevertheless, was important in the initial economic and tourism history of Evanston. The invention of the horseless carriage and the mass production of automobiles provided a means for freedom of travel beyond the boundaries of home and community.
In July of 1913, a group of men led by Carl Fisher met in Detroit, Michigan, for the purpose of establishing the Lincoln Highway Association. The association’s main mission was to promote and procure the establishment of a continuous improved road from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Fortunately for Evanston, the route of the Lincoln Highway was very near the path of the Union Pacific Railroad in southern Wyoming, for the most part.
The Lincoln Highway traveled through 13 states, from New York to San Francisco. To coordinate the mission of the Lincoln Highway Association, each of the 13 states had a state president who was referred to as the “state consul.” The Wyoming state consul, from Evanston, was Payson W. Spaulding.
Spaulding was a local attorney, and he was one of the first Evanston residents to own an automobile. He traveled the state from Evanston to Pine Bluffs and back in order to personally inspect the road and visit with the respective local consuls. The route of the Lincoln Highway through Evanston followed much of what is Bear River Drive, Front Street and Harrison Drive today.
The economic impacts of the Lincoln Highway can be seen today in Evanston. In 1912, the Hotel Evanston was constructed to serve those early tourists. As early as 1916, the Official Lincoln Highway Guide featured an ad proclaiming that the Hotel Evanston as “The Only Modern Hotel in Evanston; European Plan, Steam Heat, Hot and Cold Water, Phone in Every Room.” The 1916 guide listed Evanston’s population at 3,000.
Near the corner of what are today Front and Harrison streets was one of the first commercial buildings in Evanston, the Downs Opera House. The Downs was remodeled and became Normandy Hall, which later became the Trans-Continental Garage. The Trans-Continental Garage business was created to accommodate the Lincoln Highway travelers and sold Hudson and Dodge Brothers cars.
In 1924, the Trans-Continental Garage sold Studebaker and Ford cars as advertised in the Official Lincoln Highway Guide. The 1924 Official Lincoln Highway Guide listed Evanston’s population at 3,479. It stated there were five hotels, five garages, three banks, two newspapers, electric lights, two telephone companies and one railroad crossing at grade.
Evanston Hardware Company (currently Uinta Realty) was located at the corner of Main and Harrison Drive. The company’s storefront sign advertised implements, vehicles, harnesses, buggy whips, garage and auto supplies. The business was catering to both horse and buggy customers while diversifying into the needs of the early Lincoln Highway travelers.
Evanston Hardware Company went through several ownership changes from 1909 through 1935. These ownership changes, coupled with growing demand for automobile services, brought many remodels to Evanston Hardware Company.
Evanston’s City Park was located on the Lincoln Highway (Bear River Drive) and served as a campground for motorists. The 1924 Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway listed camp grounds at City Park east of the Bear River Bridge. There was a 50-cent charge and it included cared-for grounds and furnished firewood. It was electric-lighted, had toilet conveniences and shade trees. City Park was later renamed for former Evanston mayor Robert Hamblin.
In 1928, the Boy Scouts of America placed 2,436 concrete directional markers along the Lincoln Highway route from New York to San Francisco. The markers featured a Lincoln head medallion and a blue directional arrow to guide travelers along the road.
Today, Evanston has two original markers — one placed in Depot Square and one on Bear River Drive at the location of the Sunset Cabins. Neither marker is in its original location, and it is rare today to find a marker, let alone still standing in its 1928 location.
As highway construction funding grew and with improved roads, bridges and underpasses, the Lincoln Highway was eventually replaced by U.S. Hwy. 30. Evanston was again fortunate to have U.S. 30 travel through our community, thus providing economic and tourism opportunities for many years of our history.