If Route 66 is America’s Mother Road, the transcontinental Abraham Lincoln Memorial Highway, 13 years older and nearly 1,000 miles longer than its parallel counterpart to the south, is certainly the father.
Constructed in 1913, the 3,389-mile asphalt ribbon of freedom stretches from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. In its heyday, the roadsides of Lincoln Highway were dotted with hundreds of novelty structures designed to entice motorists to stop and indulge in local cuisine, lodging, merchandise and souvenirs.
David Berton Koontz operated a service station along the Lincoln Highway about a mile west of Bedford, Pa.
The days of horse-and-buggy travel when he was a kid had been displaced by the increasingly ubiquitous stream of automotive wonders spiriting their occupants along the open road at 30 miles an hour.
To entice some of those potential customers, Koontz built an 18-foot-high coffee pot next to his station. The brick and sheet metal structure served both as an advertisement and as a luncheonette where travelers could grab a cup of coffee and sandwich and rest a spell.
As business grew, a restaurant was attached to the coffee shop, complete with access between the two buildings. The addition subsequently served as bar and bus station. A motel was later added behind the buildings.
The location changed ownership several times and for a while The Coffee Pot was run by Bedford County Sheriff Max Norris Sr. and his wife, Sonni.
Vernon Hunt owned a business next to the attraction for several decades. Hunt, 81, retired Jan. 15, 2015, from his screen printing, sign making and embroidery business and has collected many artifacts of The Coffee Pot.
“The local Lions Club used to make Coffee Pot pens and sell them for fundraisers,” he said, also listing T-shirts, postcards, matchbooks and novelty items as other Coffee Pot memorabilia he looks for online, or at auctions and collector shows.
“They made quite a few postcards featuring The Coffee Pot,” said Hunt. “One guy from Pittsburgh did a series on roadside attractions, and they’re making reprints of the old postcards.
“But I haven’t found any matchbook covers yet,” though his search continues.
Hunt also preserved his memories with photographs. “Back when there was film, I used a whole roll on The Coffee Pot,” he said. The attraction also caught the attention of artist Kevin Kutz, who included The Coffee Pot in some of his many paintings commemorating Lincoln Highway.
The Coffee Pot closed in 1989 and “came within an inch of the scrap pile,” according to www.roadsideamerica.com.
“Even after the highways bypassed (US) 30, The Coffee Pot catered to
locals, sitting just west of town and across from the county fairgrounds
on Business 30. But time took its toll and the place changed hands.
For a decade or so it was closed and for sale, tattered and drooping
next to a drive-thru beer mart.
“The people of Bedford thought that the Big Pot might have one more jolt left in it, and preservationists managed to save The Coffee Pot in 2003. The Bedford County Fair Association paid $1 to purchase it, and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Park Corridor, and attraction preservation group, spent $80,000 to move the building across the street to the fairgrounds and restore it in 2004,” reads the website.
“It was moved in the middle of a snowstorm,” said John Hobart, fairgrounds manager.
“We put it at the fairgrounds entrance, in an area that was not very attractive with an old building ready to collapse and overgrown brush. We got a grant from the Lincoln Highway Association and prepared the site with the grant and tax money. Now the front of the fairgrounds looks very attractive.”
The Coffee Pot still attracts visitors numbering “in the thousands,” according to Hobart.
“Sometimes a bus will visit. Most of our visitors come the first two weeks of October during our fall festival,” he said. “We open the door those two weekends. We have some gift items in there.”
The 90-year-old structure can be a challenge to preserve structurally. “We put a new roof on it and it’s a constant work to keep it maintained,” said Hobart.
Judging from comments on online travel sites, The Coffee Pot is rarely a destination in itself, but it is a “must-see” if one is “in the area.” “So you’re driving along and all of a sudden there’s a huge coffee pot on the side of the road,” wrote a traveler from Pittsburgh on www.tripadvisor.com. “At first you think, ‘Why?,’ but if you love these kind of roadside oddities (as I do) you immediately switch to ‘Why not?’ Park the car, get out, and take that photo — you know you want to.”