Remembering a monument: Long forgotten history is back
By Gordon RichardsOne of Truckee’s historical monuments is often overlooked as hundreds pass by it everyday. Located just west of the downtown train station on Donner Pass Road, The Victory Highway Eagle Monument is dedicated to America’s sons and daughters who served their country in World War 1. The Victory Highway is named to honor those men and women nationwide who gave their lives in the “war to end all wars” as it was referred to in the 1920s.The Victory Highway followed, for the most part, the Lincoln Highway from San Francisco through Sacramento and over Donner Pass. After passing through Reno, it continued east to New York City. The Victory Highway Association was organized in 1921. Maps were published and signs were erected by 1923. Section by section, the road would become a fully paved highway, capable of transporting motorists both locally and across the continent.Under the Victory Highway program, the Donner Summit Bridge was completed in 1926, along with an improved, graded, gravel road through Donner Pass. The Truckee River Canyon was finally opened to through road traffic for the first time in July of 1927. A rough road from Truckee to Floriston had already been built, but a new oiled and paved road was constructed on the north side of the river, and continued down to Verdi. Previously traffic had followed the Emigrant Trail and Lincoln Highway route through Dog Valley, Stampede Valley, and Prosser Valley.
Honoring the heroesBy 1928 the Victory Highway was complete from coast to coast. It is a highway well-named, for in addition to commemorating the deeds of the nation’s war heroes, its construction marked a succession of victories over natural obstacles. The 3,025 miles of highway ran through the heart of America. Though still not a year-round highway, the portion from Reno to Auburn opened the Sierra and Truckee to the average motorist, rather than just the brave adventurer.The western portion of the highway was promoted and managed by the California State Automobile Association. Federal funds paid for the construction, and by 1928, $18 million had been spent on the effort across the country. The automobile era had truly begun in America. Shortly after the completion, the new numbering system was put into use nationwide and U.S. 40 was created of the existing route.Monuments to honor the World War 1 Veterans and those killed in action were erected along the route. The same design for the bronze Eagle on top of a stone or concrete pedestal was used nationwide. Artist Thomas Roberts is credited with the design. Each one had an unique plaque on the face , and most appear to have had a Victory Highway emblem on it.
One of six monumentsThe plan was for monuments to be erected at each state and county boundary along the route, though most were never constructed. Only six were apparently built with three of those in California. One monument is located in William Land Park in Sacramento and another is at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds.The Truckee monument was first erected at the California-Nevada state line on July 24, 1928. It was located right next to the roadway at a convenient small pullout. The governors of Nevada and California attended as did local and national promoters of the highway. The day was hot and torrid, but the many speakers were not swayed to shorten their speeches. After the ceremony, a barbecue lunch was held in Reno, then a tour of Carson City and Virginia City was taken.Native stone was used as the base. The bronze eagle with its seven foot wingspan protects the two small eaglets in the nest below. The nine-foot-tall monument was a popular stopping point for travelers and tourists. Thousands of photos were taken of the monument with visitors and their cars in the photo.The construction of Interstate 80 did not move the monument, but the high speed of the traffic led most people to pass by quickly without stopping. Those who did contributed to the degradation of the monument. By the late 1970s, the plaques had been removed and stored in Truckee, later the stone base was removed as well.For a decade the eagle was first stored and later displayed at Cal Expo in Sacramento. No permanent home was found for it, and the plaque lay long forgotten in a state warehouse. By 1990 transportation historian Lyn Protteau led a movement supported by others around the state, to have the monument restored and erected in a safe location.
The current locationFormer Nevada County Supervisor and Truckee town councilman Bob Drake found the appropriate location at the Truckee Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Truckee. The bronze was cleaned and polished. The original, white, granite blocks were found and now form a planter around the base. The brick pedestal is historic in its own right. The bricks came from the Masonic Hall that stood across the Donner Pass Road from 1910 until it was destroyed in a propane explosion in 1993.Seventy years to the day after the original dedication, on July 24, 1998, the Town of Truckee and Caltrans rededicated the Victory Highway Eagle Monument. Many organizations participated in the rededication, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.The monument is standing today along the old Victory Highway watching over a free society that rarely remembers the dedication and bravery of those that lost their lives in fighting for our country in the past.Gordon Richards is the President and Research Historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society website at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at http://www.sierrasun.com in the archives.