Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

The long awaited announcement came the morning of February 16th, 2021 that the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway has been given the designation of a National Scenic Byway!
This was a long-awaited award and work towards it began in 2016 when working on the Corridor Management Plan (CMP)and talked about even prior to that.

The Lincoln Highway, although the first improved transcontinental road in the nation, is a fairly newer byway in Iowa. The Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byway program is over 20 years old. The Lincoln Highway was nominated by the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association and brought into the fold as a state byway in 2006 (making it 15 years in 2021).

Woodbine’s bricked Lincoln Highway

A byway is made up of 6 intrinsic qualities: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway’s main quality is historic and we focus on that aspect in many of our programs and marketing materials. To be a National Scenic Byway one of these qualities needs to be of high value and the route has to already be recognized as a state byway through their DOT.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Corridor Management Plan (CMP).

As part of Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s agreement with the Iowa DOT to manage this byway, we created a CMP using criteria set out by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). We held community meetings and visited with residents, government officials (local, county, and state) and other organizations to see what amenities existed in each of the intrinsic qualities. Our plan gathered ideas and feelings of the 13 counties and 43 communities our byway ties together as we prepared our to-do lists of projects. One of the topics, and identified as a state-wide project, was for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to apply to be a National Scenic Byway.

There was only one small problem. The National Scenic Byway program was sitting on FHWA’s shelf. It was still a program, but was not active and not being funded. It wasn’t revived until 2020 when the program welcomed new designations (no funding included). The stars had aligned for us- the Scenic Byway program was revived and taking applications, we had a completed our CMP, we also had an Interpretive Master Plan, and we had overwhelming support of our communities to make this application. See https://www.prrcd.org/lincoln-highway-corridor-management-plan/for the full CMP.

Once the work began in earnest on the multi-page application, we needed to identify 8 important locations that supported our chosen “Historic” quality. It was difficult to narrow the choices down to just 8 and even them out across Iowa to show an accurate impression of the Lincoln Highway route in Iowa.

The locations chosen were:

  • The Sawmill Museum, Clinton
  • Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County
  • Preston’s Station Historic District, Belle Plaine
  • Lincoln Highway Bridge, Tama
  • Reed-Niland Corner, Colo
  • Carroll Railroad Depot, Carroll
  • Brick Street, Woodbine
  • Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center, Missouri Valley
Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built by Joe Young in his pasture for his widowed daughter to operate the gas station, cafe, and cabins. She and her children lived upstairs.

Also included in the application was a route map and a turn-by-turn description of the 460+ mile Iowa Byway route, traveler information about nearby airports and interstates/highways, restroom availability, brochures and marketing materials that are available, etc. It was a very intensive application and took a team to write it and to create the map.

Our application was reviewed and submitted in June 2020 by the Iowa DOT and then the waiting began. FHWA said in late summer 2020 that they had made their recommendations to the Office of Administration and Office of Transportation for them to review and approve the list. Approval finally happened on January 19, 2021 but the announcement not made until February 16th.

We are so excited to embark on this new journey as a National Scenic Byway and the exposure we will receive now on a national level. Even during a pandemic, we have been delighted to see visitors check-in to locations in our new passport program with Travel Iowa. This program rolled out in January 2020 and will run for a year. All eight of the above locations are, or will be, a part of this passport program. It’s another way we encourage people to travel and learn more about this historic road.

We’ll see you on the Byway – now a NATIONAL Scenic Byway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

One month in and 2021 is looking very promising for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway! The Iowa Scenic Byways Passport Program rolled out on January 5th. Our Byway office in Ames is one of the stops and people are visiting us and picking up our free travel information. It’s great to see travelers out enjoying Iowa, even in the winter months. Go to Iowa Scenic Byway Passport (traveliowa.com) and join the nearly 2,500 that have already entered the program. By checking into each new location on your cell phone, you are entered into a drawing for a gift basket worth hundreds of dollars from one of the Byways. Our gift basket month is April.


And why April, you ask? Well, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway turns 15-years old on March 31st so we will spend the month of April celebrating our birthday. We hope to know by then if we are selected to be a National Scenic Byway and then we’ll have even more to celebrate.


Speaking of celebrations, we are planning unveiling ceremonies for all of our newly installed interpretive panels. Two panels are completed and waiting for spring to arrive and installation to occur. They are at Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine and the Missouri and Mississippi Divide pull-off near Arcadia. Four more are in the design phase. 1. Yellow Smoke Park near Denison about the Bowstring Bridge, 2. Eureka Bridge near Jefferson, 3. Marshall County Courthouse in Marshalltown, and 4. Woodbine about their town and brick streets. We are waiting to hear on funding for a 4-panel installation in Clinton. We should know by May and get those designed and installed as well.

Mary Preston and her husband, Garry Hevalow, accepting the interpretive panel for Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine. Installation will be Spring 2021.


We’d like to thank the Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving program, Humanities Iowa, Burke Heritage Fund, Woodbine Main Street, Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce Tourism, and Rotary Club of Denison for their grants and donations towards this project.


The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway is rolling with COVID-19 and its challenges. We are promoting locations that allow for social distancing and zero touch-points. Go to our webpage and under “Take a Road Trip” http://Take a Road Trip! – Prairie Rivers of Iowa (prrcd.org) you will find our brochures to help plan your trip across Iowa on the Lincoln Highway. We have an Info Guide (an overall brochure of things to see and do), Recreational and Camping brochure, Junior Explorer booklet (for kids), 1919 Army Convoy brochure, and our most recent- Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in Eastern Iowa. Whatever your interest, you should find something either educational, entertaining, or relaxing on the Lincoln Highway. We’ll see you on the Byway!

When planning a trip along the Lincoln Highway, use our brochures as guides.
The Junior Explorer booklet has games for kids to play in the car.


Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries Oh My!

Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries Oh My!

What do you do during a pandemic? And while you’re at it, throw in a derecho too! Well, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway created two videos and a brochure about Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in Eastern Iowa along the Lincoln Highway. It was a fun, challenging, and in the end – a very rewarding experience.

View of the Mississippi River from the deck at Wide River Winery north of Clinton.
Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery entrance at Swisher, Iowa.

Getting Started

Notification of partial funding for the Lincoln Highway project came from Iowa Tourism in November 2019 and we spent the winter months contacting and working with the four supporting businesses who are featured in the videos. Spring and the start of the growing season would work best for filming and then BOOM! Mid-March came with a pandemic and everything came to a screeching halt. Breweries, distilleries, and wineries were ordered closed and everyone was told to stay home. If you went out in public, you were asked to wear a mask. Schools and universities closed or went on-line. Oh, no! We were working with the University of Iowa’s Cinematic Arts Department and the Office of Outreach and Engagement and were counting on graduate students to do the filming and editing. Putting the videos on a temporary hold, we turned our attention to the accompanying tri-fold brochure that we hoped to debut at the Byways booth at the Iowa State Fair. Well, you all know how that went with the fair…… At times, we wondered if this project would ever get off the ground, but it did!

Work Gets Underway

Trevon Coleman, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduate student at the U of I, and Philip Rabalais, a recent MFA graduate, agreed to do the filming and editing. During mid-to-late summer, some restrictions were lifted allowing for partial business openings. We had the opportunity to film and we jumped at it. For safety precautions, we were masked the entire time. Patrons at the establishments wore masks except for when they were eating or drinking. At times it felt very surreal. But people were looking for a safe escape from their homes. One couple from Illinois rode a motorcycle down the Iowa side of the river to celebrate the wife’s birthday and stopped at the Mississippi River Distilling Company. Wide River Winery had two RV’ers stop in. One is featured in the film. She is from Virginia, retired, and decided to rent out her house and take off across America. She hasn’t been home for over a year.

Trevon Coleman interviewing Jeff Quint at Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery in Swisher. Philip Rabalais on the floor working the sound equipment.
Trevon Coleman (foreground) and Philip Rabalais, U of I graduate students, prepare their equipment at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City.


Most patrons were willing to share their experiences. At Cedar Ridge, 4-5 groups were enjoying the spacious outdoor seating. Big Grove Brewery just added to their outdoor seating and it was being put to good use as well. Many people were tired of being at home and as long as they could travel at their own speed and social distance, they were having a great time. As said in one of the films, people need to “get off the couch and into the car.”


The four locations: Mississippi River Distilling Company (LeClaire), Wide River Winery (Clinton), Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery (Swisher), and Big Grove Brewery (Iowa City) all were very accommodating and these videos show the owners’ passion for their business and products. Doing our part, we did taste test a few brews, spirits, and wines and brought some back to share with others…. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

Garrett Burchett moving newly delivered empty barrels to make room for the film shoot at the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire.

That’s a Wrap

Even throwing a derecho at us in August, did not deter Trevon and Philip from completing the filming. Once power was restored and businesses were open again, they forged on. We are so excited to share the end product with the public and we will see you on the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway as you patronize these 4 locations and the others in eastern Iowa. And have fun. “There’s always got to be fun!”

Big Grove created a’ “Beer Interrupted” named for the derecho hitting and a power outage interrupting the brew process. Big Grove leaves no brew behind so the hazy DIPA was aggressively hopped with El Dorado and Lotus.

The uploaded videos can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV4zTBb73nM&t=9s (Big Grove- Cedar Ridge) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skoaBsqtbn0 (Mississippi River-Wide River).

Also available is the accompanying brochure about the history of breweries, distilleries, and wineries in Iowa and a map of their locations in eastern Iowa. Please find it on our Byway page at https://www.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ILHA-Brochure-2.pdf

The Strength and Power of Public Support

Public support can do wonderful things and we are witnessing its strength during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing people come together as seamstresses make masks, distilleries make hand sanitizers, and manufacturers retool to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Social distancing, no large groups, and wearing masks are our new “normal.” Hopefully there will be a vaccine soon to eradicate this virus.

Re-reading the Winter edition of The Lincoln Highway Forum https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/forum/, our attention was drawn to an article written in 1914 by Henry B. Joy, President of the Lincoln Highway Association. He talks about public support for the Lincoln Highway and commented that the Highway helped spur the improved road movement for two reasons: 1) It was a definite accomplishment with a “real, tangible goal towards which to work as well as crystallizing scattered efforts.” 2) It was a monumental tribute to “our martyred president.”

The 3,400 miles of road was in need of improvements and Carl Fisher, the idea man behind the Lincoln Highway,  had an initial cost estimate of $10,000,000. He and the Association began fundraising efforts. Initial funds of $300,000 come from a variety of sources including the President of the United States, state governors, US Senators and Representatives, large industrial organizations. and high dignitaries of many religious denominations. Among the most heartwarming donations were bags of pennies, nickles, and dimes from the school children in a small Nebraska town and seven cents from children in an Alaskan school.

Henry B. Joy in the official LHA Packard, in 1915 stuck in the “gumbo” near LaMoille, Iowa.

The Association appointed state, county, and local consuls (representatives) representing the “highest class of citizens in every community- bankers, clergymen and business men of all kinds”- to organize the Association on a local level as they raised funds, exerted political influence, and gave their time, energy, and money freely to carry out the work. The Association office then turned its attention to promotion as it felt this network was strong enough to encourage the necessary improvements on a local level.

We see these local efforts when, in 1915, the Tama community pooled their money to create a unique bridge with side panels that spell out “LINCOLN HIGHWAY”. In 2018-2019, they once again helped out by supplementing restoration funds for the same bridge. 

This is what Americans do. See a need and fill it. We give our time, talents, and money. We build roads. We make masks and donate them. We get groceries for someone at risk or in quarantine. We care for the sick. We rush into buildings to save lives. We will get through this COVID-19 pandemic and come out the other side as a more compassionate and cohesive nation and when we do, we will travel the Lincoln Highway- the road America built.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Monarch on a Swamp Milkweed by Carl Kurtz

There are signs of spring 2020 along the Lincoln Highway! In some places, snow has melted away and some flowers are busting through the soil. That means spring is just around the corner. Home and Garden Shows are being held in many communities across Iowa. Also Camping and Boating shows! These types of events get people excited for warmer weather and for the eventual summer.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping Guide

  Also check our our Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping brochure for ideas of where you can go along our route and enjoy the outdoors.  https://old.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/10-18.UPD-Camp26RecBrochure.pdf What preparations are you making for spring? Cleaning closets? Raking the yard? Perusing garden catalogs and magazines? Getting your fishing gear ready? We all know that Thursday, March 19th is the first official day of spring, but, as Iowans, we know it can still snow in April and be chilly in May. What can we do in preparation in the meantime for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to get ready for spring? We know the Department of Transportation is tasked with handling the physical road repairs, but what can we do as a group or as an individual for the Byway? On my way to work today, I noticed some trash along the ditches and medians. Does your section of road have groups that participate in Adopt-A-Highway? If not, do you know of a group that could? Now I am not suggesting that you go into the median of a busy highway yourself to pick up trash without proper training or a safety vest, but if you are a landowner perhaps cleaning up your own ditch makes sense. (I know most do already.) If you live in the city, as I do now, ask your city how you can be part of a city-wide cleanup day. Perhaps there is a group that spruces up the entrance to your town to make it more inviting, not only for visitors, but for residents. This makes an impact on all and increases community pride. Some communities do a “swap” where leaders in one community go to another to view the community through “new eyes” as to what works well and what could be improved. Then leaders from that community go to the other and do the same type of review. Sometimes we don’t even notice things in our own back yard as we are accustomed to them. The official Iowa Byways sign for the Lincoln Highway Heritage BywayAre there buildings that could do with a fresh coat of paint? Every year Paint Iowa Beautiful offers, through a grant application process, a chance to obtain paint through their program. (Sorry the 2020 deadline has passed, but please remember this for next year.)

One of my spring goals is to finish the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway signage inventory. I know there are signs in 2 counties and 2 communities that I need to address. It’s been an on-going process for several years now. (There are 1200 signs across the state to monitor!)

Also on my list of to-do’s are to continue supporting attractions that are in need of restoration. Preston’s Station, Quirks’ Cabins, and a gas station in Montour are among the priorities. We are also planning several interpretive installations across the state that will increase education and promotion of the road.

Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine, Iowa taken by Mike Kelly

Let us know what spring events you have in the works and how we can help you promote them.