A would-be Eagle Scout's ambitious project is highlighting the historic Lincoln Highway through the Omaha area just in time for the road's centennial celebration next summer. The highway, the first coast-to-coast automobile and truck road, played a significant role in the development of communities along its route.
James Kopsa, 14, didn't even know what it meant when he saw the badly faded red, white and blue “L” signs painted on poles in the Elkhorn area. After a little research, Kopsa discovered that they designated a portion of the original road, which has been rerouted, shortened and changed over the years. It ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco; at first, its length was 3,389 miles from end to end.
A portion of the original brick road has been preserved in Elkhorn. In Iowa, the Old Lincoln Highway runs north out of Council Bluffs through Crescent.
The history and importance of the route must have impressed the teenager, because he decided to repair and repaint 34 Elkhorn area signs, including those through his town's historic center, for the service project he needs to do to become an Eagle Scout. It took Kopsa months to plan the work, which included getting permission from agencies such as the Nebraska Department of Roads. Earlier this month, he and a group of volunteers prepared and painted the signs, using materials donated by area businesses.
The original Lincoln Highway went through 13 states (now 14). The final 42 miles were paved in 1938, and what started out as a dirt road, impassible during much of the year, turned into an engine for both cross-country transportation and economic development. It was sometimes called “The Main Street Across America.”
Kearney, Neb., and its Great Platte River Road Archway Monument will play a big part in the Lincoln Highway Association's 100th anniversary celebration. The group is sponsoring two tours, one starting at the eastern end of the Lincoln Highway and the other at its western end; the vehicles on the tour will meet at Kearney for festivities beginning June 30, 2013.
Thousands of tourists are expected to trace the highway during its centennial summer. Many will go through the Elkhorn area, and, thanks to Kopsa, they will know that the community values its historical tie to the great Lincoln Highway.