Dueling highways

On April 15, the Reno Gazette-Journal carried a photo of the Lincoln Highway markers at a roadside rest on Interstate 80 west of Reno and east of the California border.

For those who grew up here and don't remember those markers at any location out there, there's a reason—they actually belong on Highway 50. The late George Earnhart—then of the Nevada State Archives— told us that particular set of markers was originally located on U.S. 50. During a widening of 50, he said, they were put into storage. They ended up remaining in storage for an extended period. When someone finally decided to do something with them, the institutional memory of where they had come from was lost, and they were moved to I-80, apparently because it runs more or less along the old Lincoln Highway route of the now-defunct U.S. 40 route. Some remnants of 40 can still be seen alongside 80.

As it happened, in western Nevada, there were two Lincoln Highways. Most of the Lincoln through the state was on U.S. 50. As it moved west across Nevada, it forked at Leeteville (Ragtown), a post office and stage stop near Fallon, onto both U.S. 50 and U.S. 40.

Some Reno boosters argue that the 50 branch of the Lincoln Highway west of the site of Leeteville is less than legitimate, that 40 was the “real” LH.

But in fact, the Lincoln Highway arrived at Leeteville on U.S. 50 and continued on 50 past Leeteville, with 40 being the new section. Moreover, the Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway (1924 edition) gave its blessing to both sections, noting of the Leeteville-to-Carson City branch, “In 1921 the Nevada State Legislature established that branch of the Lincoln Highway running from Fallon to Carson City, by way of Lahontan Dam, as a portion of the state highway system, in line for immediate improvement with state funds and federal aid. … The southern [50] route is shorter by 14 miles and much more scenic, but does not take you through Reno, the largest city in Nevada.”

In Carson City, the Lincoln Highway turned west and led to Lake Tahoe through Kings Canyon. At that turn in town, there were once Lincoln Highway markers on a large animal fountain that is still there at the corner of Carson and King streets, though the two streets no longer connect.

A residential street in Zephyr Cove alongside U.S. 50 is named Lincoln Highway.