Overview of the 2023 Lincoln Highway Conference

The California Chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association invites you to the LHA annual conference in this year’s host city, Folsom, California. Folsom is famous in the old west as a Pony Express stop and has the oldest railroad in the west, the Sacramento-Folsom Railroad. Designed by Theodore Judah, this railroad pre-dated Judah’s masterpiece, the Transcontinental Railroad, which travels up the High Sierra often in tandem with the Lincoln Highway, following closely in its rails. Folsom is also home to the state prison that singer-songwriter Johnny Cash made famous with his “Folsom Prison Blues,” recorded in 1955.

Our host hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Folsom, sits right on the Lincoln Highway, just a few miles from the historic old town and the longest remaining stretch of Lincoln Highway concrete in California, Old Bass Lake Road. The hotel is right off U.S. Highway 50, which runs from Sacramento through Folsom and is a short drive from Sacramento International Airport, the closest airport to our event. If you plan to do the auto tours before and after the conference, then you can also fly into San Francisco International Airport and rent a car for the tours, as they begin and end in San Francisco.

On our first day of the conference, Sunday, June 11, Paul Gilger will lead an auto tour of the 1928 Lincoln Highway alignment, starting at the western terminus at Lincoln Park in San Francisco and traveling through San Francisco to the Bay Bridge. While the first section of the Bay Bridge looks like it did on opening day on November 6, 1936, the second section was rebuilt after it was damaged in the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. It was finished in 2013 at a reported cost of 6.5 billion dollars. After crossing the bridge, we will pass by the Berkeley Pier, built in 1926, which carried auto traffic by ferry to San Francisco before the Bay Bridge was built. The next bridge we cross is the Carquinez Bridge, a single cantilever bridge built in 1927, which was part of the direct route between San Francisco and Sacramento, eliminating another ferry crossing.

We continue from the Carquinez Bridge until reaching the charming town of Vacaville, which includes a Lincoln Highway bridge crossing a local river. We will then cross the Yolo Causeway, a long bridge that crosses over farmland that floods in the winter to prevent flooding in the city of Sacramento. The Yolo Causeway allowed the second-generation Lincoln Highway to make a more direct route toward the terminus at Lincoln Park. Before the causeway, there was only a seasonal road called Tule Jake Road, which would close during the winter when the area flooded. Our tour continues towards Sacramento, where we can take the grand view of the State Capitol building. That night we will hold our opening dinner at the hotel, with a special visit by musician Mark Allen Cash, Johnny Cash’s nephew.

On Monday, we will be taking a bus tour of the southern route of the Lincoln Highway up Highway 50, along Mother Lode Drive, and crossing the 1913 Weber Creek Bridge just before arriving in Placerville, known since the Gold Rush days as “Old Hangtown,” due to vigilante justice during the wild west days of the Gold Rush. Main Street through Placerville is on the Lincoln Highway. We will follow past the old stage stop of Smith Flat and up the mountain following the South Fork of the American River, as it cuts through the spectacular American River Canyon. We will see the Sportsman’s Hall, a famous stage stop along the Emigrant Trail, and continue up the mountains to Strawberry, another well-known stop for teamsters, the Pony Express, and emigrant travelers during the 1850s and 1860s.

Photo of Echo Summit Lodge
Echo Summit Lodge and Lake Tahoe. Photo by Trey Pitsenberger

When we reach Echo Summit and Johnson’s Pass, we will visit the Echo Summit Lodge, situated on a cliff with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe far below. Lincoln Highway entrepreneur TC Wohlbrück built the original building to service the needs of the auto travelers following along the Lincoln Highway. We’ll then descend to Lake Tahoe and finish our tour at Cave Rock, just across the border in Nevada. Cave Rock is a well-known Lincoln Highway feature where before the tunnel through the rock was blasted out, the traveler passed around the rock on an extended platform high above the lake.

Photo of Auburn Courthouse
Historic Auburn Courthouse. Photo by Trey Pitsenberger

On Tuesday, our bus tour will take us up the northern route of the Lincoln Highway in California. We will visit the old town of Auburn and its beautiful courthouse, while continuing the climb up the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. While Interstate 80 is never too far away, the drive up from Auburn to the ghost town of Baxter is along old Highway 40, which follows the older Lincoln Highway. Taking this drive is a step back into “Old California,” passing by the historic towns of Dutch Flat and Alta.

Photo of Rainbow Bridge at Donner Pass
Rainbow Bridge at Donner Pass. Photo by Neil Rodrigues

Then we quickly return to the interstate and exit at Cisco Grove, where we will pass by the Forest Gift Shop, a popular stop. While the store closed years ago, the two buildings that make up the gift shop have been cared for nicely, built out of local stone. We continue climbing the mountains, reaching Soda Springs and Donner Pass at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. Some say that the Donner Pass area is the most historic square mile in California, and it would be hard to disagree. This small gap in the mountains has seen people passing over the summit for thousands of years, starting with the Martis people who lived in the mountains during summer and traveled to lower elevations during the harsh winters from about 2000 BC to 500 AD. Following some of these old trails, the Stevens-Townsend-Murphy Party became the first immigrants to travel over the mountains. Soon others followed, including the ill-fated Donner Party in 1847.

The Summit of the Sierra at Donner Pass would be the construction project’s most significant task. One of the most significant changes to the summit came with the Transcontinental Railroad. The railroad passed three thousand miles over and through mountains, deserts, ravines, and rivers. They blasted and drilled through solid granite with the help of thousands of Chinese laborers, completing it in 1869. Now you could travel by train at the unimaginable speed of 25 miles an hour and the trip, all the way across the country, took only 19 days!

Wednesday will be the last full day of events, with Speakers Day starting at 10 am, with Trey Pitsenberger, California Chapter historian, who will give us a tour and background of the Lincoln Highway in California. 11 am will feature James Dalessandro, an expert on the 1915 Panama–Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco. It was this expo that helped speed along the development of the Lincoln Highway, so people could drive to this grand event. There will be a lunch break and then continue at 1 pm with local Folsom historian Jeff Ferreira-Pro, board chair of Folsom History. Our last speakers will be Dick Noonan and Heather Kearns from the California State Railroad Museum, speaking on the transcontinental railroad tunnels at Donner Pass.

At 6 pm, we will meet at the Moe Mohanna’s Event Center perched in the foothills above the Sacramento Valley for the awards dinner. The event center is located on the longest stretch of Lincoln Highway concrete left in California. This stretch of the highway was built with the help of prisoners or “chain gangs” from the nearby Folsom Prison.

Thursday will feature breakfast at the hotel from 8 to 10 am. Our final general membership meeting will be from 10 am to noon. The final board meeting with the incoming board will be from noon to 1 pm.

Photo of Altamont Pass Road
Altamont Pass Road. Photo by Neil Rodrigues

There will be a post-conference car tour, again led by Paul Gilger, from Folsom to San Francisco via the original 1913 alignment through Sacramento, south through the Altamont Pass, passing the Duarte Garage in Livermore, through Oakland, and across the Bay Bridge, ending at the terminus in Lincoln Park.