Trolley tour takes memory lane trip on Lincoln Highway

Philadelphia is home to a lot of the country’s first, but it is not often lauded as home to the first transcontinental highway, which thanks to Lincoln Highway, it is.

This spring the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is offering a new trolley tour that will take a trip down Lincoln Highway’s memory lane. The tour will explore the role Lincoln Highway played in Philly’s history and gander at the important cultural landmarks that sprang up along the route.

In 1912 an Indiana entrepreneur envisioned a highway that would stretch from coast to coast – all the way from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Locally, it took a course from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pa. that was originally used by Lenape Indians for travel and trade.

According to Hidden City Philadelphia, which wrote about Lincoln Highway on its 100th birthday last year:

“Inspired by the Good Roads Movement, the Lincoln Highway was the result of a widespread advocacy effort for improved roads initially led by bicyclists. However, the roadway itself was conceived in 1913 by businessmen intimately involved with the emerging tire, gasoline and concrete-pavement industries. The federal government was not yet building roads, so their plan was to connect and improve existing state roadways so as to incorporate them into one grand byway—all to get people driving and using their wares.”

In Philadelphia, “What it did is it helped push part of the Philadelphia settlement further inland, and it created new neighborhoods,” said Katherine O’Morchoe, coordinator of tours and merchandising for the Mural Arts Program.

In its early days, the Lincoln Highway entered Pennsylvania from Trenton, N.J. at Morrisville, Pa. Then it traveled through Bucks County and eventually reached North Broad Street. It veered west at what is now City Hall and ran through West Philadelphia on what is now U.S. Route 30. The Lancaster Ave portion carried Lincoln Highway through University City, Powelton Village, Mantua and Overbrook.

As time went on different alignments were added and parts of the highway were incorporated into Route 1 and Route 30.

The new trolley tour, “America’s First Highway,” will focus on the portion of Lincoln Highway in West Philadelphia and will pass important landmarks and murals near the Philadelphia Zoo, the Please Touch Museum and the Parkside remnants of the Centennial Exhibition. The tour will also make a stop at the mural honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Freedom Now” rally, which drew a crowd of 10,000 people near the intersection of Lancaster Ave, 40th Street and Haverford Avenue in 1965.

“I think that people will be surprised about how rich the history is and also just how many murals we have out there and how these murals really add to the culture and history of the area,” O’Morchoe said.

The trolley tour will be offered during the fourth weekend of each month, April through November. Information about scheduling and tickets can be found online at

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal