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Oakland Tribune; October 19, 1997, p. 17
Lincoln Highway's ghosts echo from many roads, byways
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By Chris Lewis

Tracing the Lincoln Highway through the Bay Area is tricky because it's hard to find old maps that designate exact routes.

The task is complicated by the fact that the route changed over the years, and parts of it have been paved over by newer freeways or boulevards.

Jay Smart, a Manteca city councilman and Lincoln Highway history buff, has spent a lot of time driving the old route. He found that the Lincoln Highway generally ran where country roads connected towns and cities.

"There are many different alignments, depending on where you go. It's a little frustrating, but also a fun mystery," he says.

It's possible to drive along some of the route, or at least alongside it in most places, following small sections on maps in guidebooks. Old newspaper articles and the recollections of elderly locals provide other clues.

The town of Banta, on the eastern outskirts of Tracy is a good place to start a tour of the old Lincoln Highway through the Bay Area.

There you can still wander into the old Banta Inn, established in 1879, but rebuilt after a 1937 fire. Next door is a former general store, with its green awning. You can still see the old post office boxes through the window.

[Picture of Banta Inn]
Banta Inn near Tracy

From there, the Lincoln Highway headed southwest on Brichetto Road along the railroad tracks to 11th Street in Tracy, says Alan Hawkins, a Tracy High School history teacher. It snaked along 11th through the heart of Tracy, where one of the relics, the Tracy Inn, still stands.

From 11th Street, the old highway is believed to have followed Byron Highway northeast, and jogged left onto Grant Line Road, a rustic two-lane country road that passes cornfields and farmland.

Heading toward the windmills of the Altamont, the highway met Mountain House, a community that once had a general store, gas station and two-room schoolhouse. The major remaining landmark is the Mountain House Cafe, where you can stop in and order a beer from manager Genie Gonzalez.

In front of the cafe, Gonzalez can point to a stretch of pavement that dead-ends into a grassy embankment. Cars used that part of the old highway until the California Aqueduct was built and cut it off.

If you continue down the current highway, which becomes Altamont Pass Road in front of the cafe, you'll see where the old road, with its faded white line, juts out from the other side of the canal.

The trip down through the Altamont threads through a lumpy landscape of grassy mills topped with endless windmills. Don't blink, or you'll miss what's left of Altamont, a town that 80 people once called home.

The guidebooks describe the town as having a "general business place," express company, public school and telegraph company. The only evidence that remains is a residence and the old "Summit Garage" and post office.

Smart, who has driven the road often to work, discovered a small plot of worn pavement where Altamont Pass Road meets Interstate 580 and Greenville Road.

Towards Livermore, the road pretty much follows the route of I-580, heading off First Sreet in Livermore and looping over to Portola Avenue. Along the avenue still stands the old "Highway Garage" built by F. H. Duarte in 1915.

From there, as you trace the old highway's route, you drive west and get back on the freeway until reaching the Hopyard Road exit. There you head into Dublin, following Dublin Boulevard west across Foothill Road, which takes you past the old downtown. (If you wish, you may turn on Donlon Way and take a short detour to see the old St. Raymond's Church, the oldest building in Alameda County.)

[Picture of Dublin in 1946]
Dublin in 1946

Continuing on Dublin Boulevard, look for a driveway that leads down to a large new office building on the left. A little road aside the main driveway dead ends into a spot overlooking I-580. That's where the highway used to cross over to Dublin Canyon Road before I-580 was built.

To get to the other side, retrace your steps back down Dublin Boulevard to Foothill and turn right. Take the first right onto Dublin Canyon Road, going past the Holiday Inn, until you see the Pleasant View Church of Christ. That's where the old Lincoln Highway picked up again.

Continue on Dublin Canyon Road past the Rowell Ranch rodeo grounds. Take Palo Verde Road to the left, which follows the original highway. It will loop you back onto Dublin Canyon Road. Cross under the freeway and turn left on Castro Valley Boulevard.

When you get to the crest, called Pergola Hill, look for the sign for Five Canyons Parkway. You'll see where the old road came out of the creek canyon at one time to join the boulevard.

From there, the route led into Oakland through either Foothill Boulevard or 14th Street.

A lot of people remember taking 14th Street as the old highway, although guidebooks and articles from the early 1900s talk about Foothill as the road.

Either way, it's now an inner city boulevard lined with decaying buildings and chain link fences.

According to the 1926 guidebook, the highway followed Foothill westward, darted over to East 14th at High Street, then followed East 12th Street around 24th Avenue, snaked alongside what is now I-880, and traversed the southern tip of Lake Merritt, ending up on 13th Street, where the Hotel Oakland still sits.

From there, the road went down Broadway to 1st Street at Jack London Square.

The ferry would take motorists out to Market Street in San Francisco. Cars could continue along Post Street, turn left on Presidio and take Geary Boulevard to Lincoln Park.

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Originally published in the Oakland Tribune, Sunday, October 19, 1997. Also published in the Tri-Valley Herald and The Argus. Reproduced with permission.

Last modified on October 7, 1998 by James Lin

Copyright © 1997 by ANG Newspapers