As temperatures turn crisp and treetops become speckled with the earthy tones of fall, many take to the open road for a seasonal escape.
Roadway wanderers have seven scenic byways from which to choose in Illinois, but the one running through Kane County is the only route offering travelers a ride along America’s first coast-to-coast highway.
Highway 30, Route 31 and Route 38 comprise the Illinois portion of the Lincoln Highway, which – in its entirety – spans 3,300 miles across 13 states and connects New York City to San Francisco.
In its day, the Lincoln Highway forged a formidable path for the automobile industry and heeded the public’s desire for better roads, ultimately morphing independent travel into what it is today.
“The Lincoln Highway changed our way of transportation and independence forever,” said Susan Hronik, the program director for the nonprofit Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition. “It’s something we take for granted today. It’s a vital part of history in the fact that it also affected – later on down the line – [President] Eisenhower’s decision to incorporate and begin the interstate highways.”
Running parallel to Interstate 88 is Illinois’ own portion of the Lincoln Highway, a 179-mile trek from Rochelle to Fulton that takes travelers through or near the Kane County communities of North Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Sugar Grove, Elburn and Maple Park.
“The Fox Valley region, where there is water, is definitely scenic and recreational, and something that – even in the early days of the highways – was stated in the guidebooks [as] a great place to pull off [the road] or a great place to stay,” Hronik said. “It’s considered one of the prettiest areas for the highway.”
Of the entire transcontinental route, the Illinois Lincoln Highway is the only part designated a National Scenic Byway – a road recognized for its archaeological, cultural, historic, national, recreational or scenic qualities – by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration, Hronik said.
“Becoming a byway gives [the coalition] extra things to promote as far as resources in the community and creating a unique travel experience,” Hronik said. “It gives us an opportunity to preserve and protect that portion of the highway, also.”
To create a unique travel experience, the coalition painted 35 large-scale murals and built 16 gazebos in the highway’s bordering communities to preserve the highway’s history.
“Our main goal for [the murals and gazebos] was to do something unique and something very large scale that would be visible,” said Hronik, adding that the murals will be one of the largest works of public art in the area. “We strive to offer the visitor extra reasons to come to the communities along the Illinois portion of the highway ... . This is our way of telling the history and heritage of the highway and making a significant link between the communities, the visitor and the highway.”
Some of the sites that travelers driving along Route 31 – the eastern portion of Illinois Lincoln Highway – can expect to see include the historical Campana Building in Batavia, Geneva’s P.D. Hoyt House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1906 and the Fabyan Villa Museum and Japanese Gardens in Geneva, to name a few.
The highway then cuts through downtown Geneva via Route 38 and heads into the Elburn area, the central region of the route, where it becomes increasingly less suburban.
For fall foliage viewing, Hronik said that the central and western portions of the Illinois Lincoln Highway, which includes Morrison, Dixon and Oregon, is better than the Fox Valley because of the areas’ densely wooded topography.
“[The Illinois Lincoln Highway] is not the longest, but I would say it’s one of the more diversified because [it] offers the city life experiences, the small-town historic experiences and the farming town experiences,” Hronik said. “Road trips and road travel [have] always been something that people enjoy doing, and [the Illinois Lincoln Highway] offers you specific reasons to do it.”
For information about the Illinois Lincoln Highway National Scenic Byway, visit www.drivelincolnhighway.com.