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Lathrop and Americas Loneliest Road
This was the only Lincoln Highway post that we saw along Highway 50, also known as The Loneliest Road in America, between the Utah border to the town of Austin in Nevada which still had a brass plate image of Abraham Lincoln. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/ The Bulletin
The connection is quite intriguing. Lathrop is associated with the Loneliest Road in America.

After all, the Loneliest Road is in Nevada, traversing the width of the Silver State like a thin belt close to its mid-section.

It was intriguing, at least, to someone like me who was not familiar with the history of Highway 50, also known as the Lincoln Highway.

I did learn a little bit about its background when the giant granite historical marker was planted on the corner of Harlan Road and Thomsen Street in Lathrop in front of the then Best Western Inn & Suites, now the Holiday Inn Express. Among the local citizens who spearheaded and led the ceremony which unveiled the marker was former longtime Lathrop businessman John Serpa. Several of the dignitaries were members of a group affiliated with the Lincoln Highway Association.

Serpa recalled with nostalgia the old Highway 50 or Lincoln Highway that stretched along Lathrop in what is now Harlan Road flanked by almond trees. Until a few years ago, some remnants of those old nut trees were still valiantly standing along the eastern edge of Interstate 5 on the west side of the frontage road at Lathrop’s Crossroads Commerce Center. I am not privy to the reason behind the changing of the highway’s name from Highway 50 and Lincoln Highway to Harlan Road which today stretches from French Camp Road to the north to the southernmost edge of Crossroads Commerce Center where it dead-ends on the north side of the Highway 120 Bypass. But I’m sure there’s a story behind that, too.

The granite Lincoln Highway marker is not just a historic nod to the significance of the historical thoroughfare. The corner lot where the five-star hotel now stands used to be the site of the original Wiggins Trading Post which served travelers along this highway going to and from San Francisco from 1924 to 1967. The trading post was owned by the Wiggins family whose members were also present at the dedication and unveiling of the marker.

The story of what happened to the Wiggins Trading Post – as a footnote to the history of Lincoln Highway – is a story that is unfortunately mirrored in numerous sections of this once glorious coast-to-coast road, from Manhattan’s Time Square on the East Coast to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. At least, in Lathrop, the road that was once Highway 50 and Lincoln Highway is still there – albeit now playing a secondary role to the wider Interstate 5 freeway. Especially in the eastern states, Highway 50 is now largely obliterated from the map all together or has been transformed into a bigger, wider and more modern highway.

But during its heyday, Highway 50 was the way to go from Manhattan to San Francisco. And when Interstate 80 opened, Highway 50 in Nevada became the poor relation. The more modern and wider highway dealt a death blow to the economic life of the towns and communities along the Lincoln Highway.

Highway 50’s claim to fame as “The Loneliest Road in America” came to be as a result of a photo essay that ran in Life Magazine on this stretch of Highway 50. According to the magazine story that ran in July 1986, an AAA spokesman said this stretch of the highway in Nevada was “totally empty;” hence, the melancholy moniker of this section of America’s first coast-to-coast highway.

Rather than curse that moniker, Nevada made lemonade out of that lemon. They turned it into a business slogan. Never mind that there are just three major towns along that 287-mile route in Nevada. While traversing a good part of the Loneliest Road during a recent trip to Nevada, we met a lot of friendly people in those three towns – Ely, Eureka and Austin. And if you enjoy feeling like the king of the road, this is the perfect driving route for you. Vehicles and motorcycles going the opposite way are so far in between that each time we met another motorist on the road, my husband waved his hand and all – except a couple – waved back with a smile. During the drive from the Utah border to the town of Austin where we climbed up Highway 305 on our way to Oregon, we met no more than 10 souls on the way.

The towns of Ely, Eureka and Austin all have interesting historical highlights. One of the places that I enjoyed exploring in Eureka was the historical museum building which once housed the Eureka Sentinel newspaper which folded in 1960. In the back of the ground floor of the museum is the old newsroom which was preserved and is now part of the museum attraction.

Here, in a nutshell, are some of the plain facts about The Loneliest Road in America.
• It’s 287 miles long, or 461.9 kilometers.
• It stretches from a point just east of Fallon, Nev., to the Utah state line.
• Along that span of 280 lonely miles are only three major towns: Austin, which is about 110 miles from Fallon; Eureka near the Hwy 278 junction; and then 137 miles later, the town of Ely.