Koontz Coffee Pot
Backstory and Context
The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway across the United States. It winded from New York to San Francisco, going through states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, reaching a length of 3,389-mile. The highway brought with its family road trips and a booming economy along its roads. Diners, gas station and hotels all saw opportunities to attract travelers. One of the ideas they came up with were roadside giants. Roadside giants became normal stops for travelers along the Lincoln Highway because they were seen as novelties of classical Americana. These giants consisted of giant shoes, ships, gas pumps and more.
In Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Albert (Bert) Koontz had an 18-foot-tall and 22-foot-wide brick building constructed in the shape of a coffee pot. This structure was connected to Koontz Garage and Service Station and was originally a small luncheonette. It was commonly known as Koontz Coffee Pot. The Bedford section of the Lincoln Highway was a very high-volume traffic area, so it was an ideal spot for the Coffee Pot to be placed here. Programmatic and novelty architecture was quite popular in the early 20th century because when “the automobile became affordable and roads improved, businesses competed visually along the highway promoting business owners to erect these eye-catching structures.”
The Coffee Pot caught fire on the morning of December 29th, 1955 while in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Dawson who lived in the attached hotel. It was saved but suffered about $8000 worth of damage in today’s economy (2019). After the fire, the building had different roles and could not replicate its production from its hay day. It was used as a bus station, a bar, and a diner. It ultimately closed in the 1980s and fell into disrepair as the years went by all the way up until the year 2000. It was purchased by Samuel Lashley and his sons along with the gas station that it was connected to.
Lashley and his sons did not have the required funds to repair the Coffee Pot. Sam Lashley told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “...it should be restored. I’d like to see it restored.” Luckily, for Lashley and the city of Bedford, The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor was very interested in restoring this roadside giant. The Lincoln Highway Corridor was designated in 1995 by Governor Tom Ridge; it is one of twelve Heritage Areas in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The LHHC’s work of economic development through tourism takes place along a six-county, 200-mile Corridor from North Huntingdon in the west to beyond Gettysburg in the east. The LHHC applied for a $100,000 grant through the Pioneer Historical Society and the PA Department of Environmental Resources to renovate the Coffee Pot. In 2003, The Lincoln Highway Corridor had the funds for the relocation and restoration of the Coffee Pot. It cost $80,000. They sold the Coffee Pot for $1, the price for a cup of coffee, to the Bedford Fair.
Today, the Coffee Pot is located at the Bedford County Fairgrounds, colored in its original colors of red with a tint of silver to simulate the sheet metal that used to cover it and the words “The Coffee Pot” painted along its side. Visitors and Bedford County residences may enter the restored Coffee Pot and view historical artifacts and information that belongs to Bedford. With the evolution of travel and highways, this Coffee Pot is only one of five Coffee Pots that survived the decline of the popularity of the Lincoln Highway. At the height of the Lincoln Highways popularity, there were 15. The Coffee Pot is appreciated by the people of Bedford and those who stop to visit it as they travel along the old Lincoln Highway.
Miller, Jerin. A Coffee Pot for Giants. Pennsylvania Center for the Book. https://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/literary-cultural-heritage-map-pa/feature-articles/coffee-pot-giants.
The Lincoln Highway Experience. www.lhhc.org/index.php.