Auburn is the Placer County Seat and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near the North Fork American River. Auburn has been home to numerous historic highway designations such as the North Lincoln Highway, Victory Highway and US Route 40. The focus of this blog is on the evolution of US Route 40 in Auburn from a surface highway into the freeway which would become Interstate 80. The blog photo above was featured as the cover of the January/February 1948 California Highways & Public Works which shows the US Route 40 bypass of Auburn at Lincoln Way. Below 1944 United States Geological Survey shows US 40 westbound aligned through Auburn following: Lincoln Way, Elm Avenue, High Street, Lincoln Way and Ophir Road.
Part 1; the history of US Route 40 in Auburn
As noted in the introduction Auburn is the Placer County Seat. Following the conclusion of the Mexican American War during May 1848 French Miners located gold in what is now Auburn Ravine on the way to Sutter's Mill in Coloma. The French Miners decided to stay near their placer mining claims and established a mining camp. The mining camp soon grew into a small community christened as "Auburn" during August 1849 in honor of Auburn, New York. California would become an American State during September 1850 and Auburn would play a key role as a major population center during the California Gold Rush. Auburn was had significant enough of a presence that it was selected as the first Placer County Seat in 1851.
Auburn lay at an opportune location to take advantage of emigrant travel over low crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains via Donner Pass. The first known wagon crossing of Donner Pass occurred during 1844. The infamous Donner Party saga occurred in the winter of 1846-47 during which only 48 of the 87 party members survived. Although the Donner Party incident is largely attributed to poor planning and the ill-conceived Hastings Cutoff it largely led to the infamous reputation of Donner Pass.
During 1861 the State of California granted the Central Pacific Railroad a 10-year franchise on toll rights to the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road (DF&DLR) which completed by 1864. The DF&DLR was used to finance the Central Pacific Railroad's construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad from 1864 to 1868. The Central Pacific Railroad would reach Auburn during 1865 supplementing the established DF&DLR. The DF&DLR was likely not tolled after the Central Pacific Railroad was completed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains during Spring of 1868. The DF&DLR became a public highway in 1871 and was only loosely maintained given rail service had become the easiest form of transportation over Donner Pass. The website below goes into far more detail about the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road.
Below the Central Pacific Railroad can be seen on the 1873 Bancroft's Map of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The DLDLWR essentially acted as a frontage road of the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Auburn can be seen as a major population center along the Central Pacific Railroad.
"An act to make an appropriation for the location, survey and construction of a state highway from Emigrant Gap...to the west end of Donner Lake..."
"...for the location, survey, and construction of a state highway from Emigrant Gap, Placer County in an E-ly direction through what is known as the Truckee Pass (Donner Pass) to the W end of Donner Lake in Nevada County... and it shall be the duty of the department to locate, survey, and construct said road along the line of the wagon road known as the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake wagon road..."
The Victory Highway was formally organized during 1921 as a coast-to-coast highway aligned from New York to San Francisco. The Victory Highway Association lived on after the creation of the US Route System and became the US Route 40 Association in 1938.
During 1912 Indiana Businessman Carl G. Fisher conceptualized the Lincoln Highway as a major transcontinental Auto Trail. The Lincoln Highway was formally dedicated on October 31st, 1913 and was aligned west of Fallon via split branches over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The original northern branch of the Lincoln Highway (displayed in blue) is shown on the Lincoln Highway Association's Official Map in Auburn. The Lincoln Highway westbound followed Lincoln Way, a now razed at-grade rail crossing via Elm Avenue (the map displays El Dorado Street in error) and Lincoln Way.
Thusly US 40 appears on the 1925 Rand McNally Map of California east of Sacramento to Verdi, Nevada.
The US Route System was formally approved by the American Association of State Highway Engineers on November 11th, 1926. The approval of the US Route System formally brought US 40 into existence east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line. Notably US 40 east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line was referred to as the Victory Highway in numerous official documents into the 1930s.
The April 1927 California Highways & Public Works announced the CHC decided to eliminate numerous railroad crossings on US 40/LRN 37 in the Auburn-Colfax corridor.
Since 2009 California State Route 49 northbound continues over High Street and Elm Avenue to Interstate 80. Prior to 2009 California State Route 49 northbound followed the later surface alignment of US 40 through downtown Auburn via High Street to Grass Valley Highway.