Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

The Meyer’s Farmstead Historic District is located one block north of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Lisbon. The Farm District is part of the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. It is a two block walk from Lincoln Square Park which is located in the heart of the Lisbon Main Street Historic District. The Farmstead, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, and the Main Street Historic District are all nationally recognized as significant to the history of development in America.  Iowa’s travel industry is focusing on Agritourism in 2024.  It is more important than ever to realize the value of our history, our stories, and how they are being told.

Google maps with Meyers Farmstead Historic District, the Lincoln Highway, and Lisbon Main St Historic District

15.33 acres of the Meyer farm was sold to the City of Lisbon for the development of a park in 2019. For the next six years the City of Lisbon, the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC), and the Lisbon Parks and Recreation have been developing the Heritage Area. From a catch-and-release pond to tours of the farmstead, the plan is in motion. 

Lincoln Square Park Lisbon Main St Historic District
The fence post, water trough, and 3 historic barns are significant to the historic property.
Meyers Farm Historic District barn

A top priority for the Preservation Commission was to get the Meyers Farmstead listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The farmstead collective was deemed significant for important agricultural trends of livestock and dairy farming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was listed in 2021. The agricultural buildings are significant as they represent the rarity of buildings still existing from that time period. They are also significant representives of adaptive uses as the industry changed (NRHP listing for Meyers Farmstead).

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Preservation Commission was now looking for help and partners. In August of 2023, the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park including the Meyers Farmstead Historic District was named an emerging site with the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA). The SSNHA is an organization under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The SSNHA’s mission is “to preserve and tell the story of American agriculture and its global significance.” They connect partners and resources with the goal of creating a consistent professional preservation and interpretation standard. This was exactly what the Preservation Commission needed.

Silos & smokestacks

The plan for the natural landscape at the Heritage Park progressed quickly when a REAP grant was awarded last November.  The grant will be used to reconstruct 10 acres of diverse tallgrass prairie. The prairie will contribute to the farm’s story from prairie to farm. It will also improve water quality and wildlife habitat. The planting is scheduled for May 2024. 

Finally, in November of last year, the The Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun reported that the Lisbon City Council approved a contract between the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) and the City of Lisbon with OPN Architects. The contract is to prepare a preservation plan for the barns in the Historic District.  Rebecca Hess from LHPC described perfectly what the barns had endured, “The two barns and corncrib/hog house survived the tornado of 1908, the derecho of 2020, and the F2 tornado of 2023. Our goal is to ensure their structural integrity in order to preserve them for future generations.” Under the preservation plan, each of the three historic barns would have its own plan for rehabilitation created by professionals in historic preservation following historic preservation standards. Progress for the development of the park was coming together. 

2020 derecho winds
Meyers Farmstead Historic District inside damaged barn

Fast forward to mid-March of this year. The City of Lisbon and the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) were told by the city’s insurance company to demolish two of the barns and fence the third one.  The barns would no longer be covered for liability by the insurance company. No one disputes that the barns should be fenced off from public access until they can be fully rehabilitated.  If the barns are demolished, the Meyers Farmstead Historic District will lose the designation of National Historic Register status, the Silos & Smokestacks support, and the means to receive any grants to help rehabilitate any of the barns. This would be a huge setback for the development of the Heritage Park. 

Marc Mohn from the Preservation Commission sums up the current status of the Historic District on their Facebook page: “The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) is working closely with the City of Lisbon to find a solution for the insurance issues presented by the barns at the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. The commission is meeting with city officials and contractors to gather and communicate information to stakeholders in a tireless effort to preserve and protect these unique structures, along with the history and character they bring to our community. Our goal has always been and will continue to be the preservation of Lisbon History to draw visitors, revenue, and strengthen the community’s sense of identity and place.”

Meyers Farm Historic District barn

The City Council meets on May 13 to decide the fate of these barns. The location of the Meyer Farmstead Historic District along the Historic Lincoln Highway and blocks from the Lisbon Main St Historic District is ideal for telling the Agritourism story. The story will be incomplete without them. If you would like to voice your support for rehabilitation of the three nationally significant barns in Lisbon you can email the mayor and city council members directly.  You can also plan on attending the May 13 Council meeting at Lisbon City Hall. You can comment here as well.

Thank you to The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission for the photos and information, to the “Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun” for their responsive reporting on preservation efforts, to the Silos & Smokestacks organization for their support and logo use, and to all of those who support the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway and Agricultural Heritage locally, regionally, or nationally. –See you on the byway!

Raccoon River Valley Trailhead in Jefferson Honors History and the Lincoln Highway

Raccoon River Valley Trailhead in Jefferson Honors History and the Lincoln Highway

Coming from the east along the Lincoln Highway through the town of Jefferson, there is a location where the car seems to be drawn to a stop and the traveler is compelled to get out and explore. On the north side of the road is a beautiful, landscaped area with plants and sculptures while on the south side there is the restored and welcoming Milwaukee Railroad Depot (along with the county Freedom Rock!). Both sides of the road are part of the Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT) trailhead.

north trailhead park

The Railroad Years

The Chicago & North Western Railroad brought the railroad tracks to town in 1866, and by 1906 the Milwaukee and St Paul routes ran through Jefferson as well connecting Des Moines and the Iowa Great Lakes Region. Replacing smaller versions of a depot, the current depot was built from a standard Milwaukee plan between 1906 and 1909. There was once a cast iron horse trough that was attached to the building. Because Jefferson was the county seat of Greene County, the depot here was larger than most with two waiting rooms, indoor plumbing, and an express and baggage room. Greater ornamentation was also given to the structure.Jefferson Milwaukee depot historical photo

Milwaukee depot now 2023 Jefferson2023 Milwaukee depot JeffersonThe Lincoln Highway Cruises In

By 1913, the Lincoln Highway was proposed and its paving across Greene County came soon afterward from local and city funding. The city square was just a few blocks west of the Milwaukee Depot, and in 1918 a grand Classical Revival style building made of limestone was built to replace the brick county courthouse. In that same year, resident E.B. Wilson donated a statue of Abraham Lincoln to honor the Lincoln Highway and the new courthouse. This new ease and popularity of automobile travel became the preferred way to get from place to place. By 1952 the passenger service on the Milwaukee RR was discontinued. By the middle of the 1980s freight service ceased operation as well.

A New Use

It was time for a new use for the old railroad right-of-way. Through a vision of the Iowa Trails Council and the Conservation Boards from Dallas and Guthrie counties, the Raccoon River Valley multi-use Trail (RRVT) was born in 1987, with the first paved trail in 1989. The 12-mile addition from Jefferson to the south was completed in 1997 after Greene County joined the group. Today, the trail is an 89-mile paved surface running from Jefferson to Waukee, with plans to connect to the High Trestle Trail by the end of 2024.

One of the goals of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association was to keep the history alive in the towns along the trail and to give new life to the communities. There are signs noting historical points of significance along the entire route, several restored or remaining train depots, and signs that remain from the railroad days.

The Jefferson Trailhead

The addition of the Milwaukee Depot Trailhead in Jefferson has been significant to telling the story of the Lincoln Highway. Thousands of bicyclists, joggers, walkers, skaters, campers, cross-country skiers, birdwatchers, hunters, fishermen and naturalists from all across the state are drawn to the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  The Lincoln Highway interpretive signs at the trailhead are only the beginning to how Jefferson tells the Lincoln Highway history.

Freedom Rock Greene County

Jefferson and the Lincoln Highway

Adjacent to the Raccoon River Valley Trail is the Greene County Freedom Rock, the 53rd in the state, and completed in 2016.  The Lincoln Highway is one of four subjects painted on the rock. In the Greene County News, October 28, 2016, artist Bubba Sorensen states that the rocks are to thank veterans for their service and to tell the unique stories of each county. The Lincoln Highway scene depicts the 1919 U.S. Army motor transport corps convoy across the Lincoln Highway and then LTC Dwight D. Eisenhower looking toward the convoy.

Approximately one block to the west of the RRVT is the Deep Rock Gas Station.  Built in 1923, the building was in use until the 1990s. The site was given to the city in 2007. Using federal EPA “brownfield” funds, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources removed the station’s seven underground tanks. Using other grants and fund sources the station was restored and rededicated in 2014. An interpretive sign is located at the station to provide more insight on the historic Lincoln Highway.

A few blocks farther to the west is the Greene County Museum and Historical Center housing Lincoln Highway memorabilia. A sidewalk painting of the Lincoln Highway roadway leads from the museum to the Thomas Jefferson Gardens and ends at the town square. An interpretive sign along the sidewalks speaks of the Lincoln Highway.

Mahanay carillion TowerAt the center of the town square is the Greene County Courthouse, the Abraham Lincoln Statue, a 1928 Lincoln Highway Marker, and the Mahanay Memorial Carillion Tower. The tower allows for elevator rides to a 128-foot-high observation deck with views to rooftop art, to the surrounding counties and to… the Lincoln Highway.interpretive signs Lincoln Highway

The Raccoon River Valley Trail is nationally recognized as an exceptional rails-to-trails conversion and was a 2021 inductee into the rail-trail Hall of Fame. It has the longest paved loop trail in the nation and connects 14 Iowa communities with a unique outdoor recreational experience. Visit their website to plan your next railroad biking adventure and to support the communities built along railroad and Lincoln Highway history!Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Iowa

A Novel Way to Preserve a Historic Dining Experience

A Novel Way to Preserve a Historic Dining Experience

Lizzie's Dining Car Marengo Depot

Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar is a new dining experience based upon the historic passenger cars that frequented Marengo from 1860-1970.  Located at 1041 Court Ave, Marengo, Iowa, the immersive experience Elizabeth Colony has created is that which can be compared to a movie set created in Hollywood. The transformation of blank walls in a brick and mortar building into a trip back in time on a railroad dining car is enhanced with “windows’ ‘ showing outdoor scenes that move at the speed of a locomotive. Only the smells and tastes of the home cooked food and drink give away the truth that this is not an actual passenger dining train. 

Elizabeth (Lizzie) was inspired to create this dining experience from the rich history of the town in which she lives. The Mississippi & Missouri (M & M) Railroad Co extended its rail line from Iowa City to Marengo in 1860. A short 18 months later the railroad line was continued to Wilson (present day Victor) and finally Council Bluffs. The train brought thousands of passengers and freight through the Iowa Valley including presidents Truman and Eisenhower and even the Liberty Bell.  The local newspaper reported in 1899 the anticipation of an Orphan Train to arrive in Marengo; several children were received in homes in Koszta, Blairstown, South Amana, and Marengo. Although Marengo received its last passenger train in 1970 and the depot was destroyed sometime in the 1980s, a portion of the original depot from Wilson (Victor) can be seen at the Iowa County Pioneer Heritage Museum

Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar is not a historic train car. What is preserved at Lizzie’s is the atmosphere of a historic moment. It is an immersion of the senses into a time when the world was opened up to new possibilities through train travel.

The unique atmosphere was created within two walls of a downtown storefront.  As you enter the dining car, layered drapes of vintage fabric frame windows which are actually televisions. The televisions display movement through woodlands, beaches, or winter scenes.  The visual creates a sensation that you are on a moving train. On each side of the aisle are small booths igniting an intimacy for quiet conversation. Boxcar Meatloaf or Atlantic Railroad seafood and a drink from the bar completes the scene.

At the end of the railroad car is the Caboose Bar. The countertop is a single piece of cut tree that adds a natural element to the traditional “L” bar configuration found on a passenger train. The illusion is complete. 

Marengo is located in the heart of the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway where a rich collection of cultures, stories, activities, and historic scenic views remain today. The preservation of our stories is only limited by the creativity used in choosing how to tell them.   

Information for this article was informed by articles written by Bob James for 98.1 KHAK published May 16, 2023 and Marilyn Rodger, Guest columnist for the Southeast Iowa Union published Sep. 14, 2023 and Elizabeth Colony, owner/operator of Lizzie’s.  For more information on Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar visit Facebook.

After 100 Years, Preston’s Station is Now in Its Preservation Era

After 100 Years, Preston’s Station is Now in Its Preservation Era

Preston's Station 1927 - 1928

Mary Helen’s great-grandpa George W started something when he purchased a Standard Oil station for his four boys in 1923.  Little did he know what his then 12-year-old son, George H, would do to create a legacy for the family.

The building bought for a mere $100 (“well that was all that it was worth in 1923” – George H. Preston – The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) was built in 1912, just before the start of America’s first transcontinental roadway, the Lincoln Highway. The Highway originally went past the Standard Oil Station but was relocated to the south around 1927, so the family decided to move the station.

One sunny day in 1928 (ish), if you were walking down 8th Ave or 13th St in Belle Plaine, Iowa, you would have witnessed a mule team pulling a building loaded on a sleigh down the street to where Preston’s Station would remain to this day. Eventually, the family would turn the original garage behind the house into a cabin and add a larger garage and a three-room motel.

George H loved more than anything to bend the visitor’s ear.  Running a gas station, sometimes bus station, and garage for 60 years gave him plenty of stories about life along the Lincoln Highway.  George was so taken by his life along the Lincoln Highway and the stories he heard from travelers he became a strong promoter for the Lincoln Highway and for the town of Belle Plaine. George would tell his stories to anyone who would listen, and much like the game of telephone, over time, it became hard to know what stories were true and which were tales that simply grew taller through repetition.  George was a collector as well as a talker and his signs covered the station.

George H. Preston at the station.

George and his sign-covered station had unwittingly become a staple stop along the Lincoln Highway from New York to California well after they stopped selling gas in 1989. The station ran as a Standard Oil station for approximately 40 years and as a Phillips 66 station (Preston’s 66) for 30 years. George saw the value in storytelling through antique items such as signs and matchbooks long before it became an American pastime. To this day, people stop to have their pictures taken at the station with George’s signs.

Eventually, his roadside museum became famous along the Lincoln Highway; however, it was catapulted to a new level of fame when George was invited to be a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson show in 1990. Johnny was so taken with George because he couldn’t get a word in, and suddenly, his five-minute segment became 15 minutes. George and Johnny exchanged Burma Shave jingles, talked about Greorge’s 900 number to hear Lincoln Highway tales, and the Belle Plaine, Victor, and Deep River trail (today’s HWY 21).

George H. Preston on the tonight Show in 1990.

When George passed away, his oldest son, Ronald, began to carry on his father’s legacy and continued to tell the stories and collect the antiques (or junk, as some would call it). Ronald got involved with the re-invented Lincoln Highway Association tasked with preserving the stories of the Lincoln Highway and spent his final years becoming a part of the Belle Plaine Community like his dad. Unexpectedly, Ron passed away in 2011, and it was time for the next generation of Prestons to decide what to do.

Ronald Preston

In steps, Ronald’s eldest daughter, Mary Helen, and her husband, Garry Hevalow, now the fourth generation Preston family, made a plan to continue the legacy.  Before they even moved to Belle Plaine from Kansas City in 2017, they got to work clearing the extra, inventorying the museum, and planning for the buildings to be inspected for restoration. The station building is now over 100 years old (remember it was built in 1912) and has significant deterioration. Additionally, Mary Helen jumped into her father’s footsteps by joining the Lincoln Highway Association and has served as President of the Iowa Chapter for several years now.

Mary Helen Preston and Garry Hevalow with interpretive panel highlighting the station's history.

Finding the right grants, writing them, and qualifying for state, federal, and local funding for restoration is a long and arduous process. Mary Helen and Garry created a non-profit organization for the station and then began the process of applying for national recognition. In 2020, they were ecstatic to announce that Preston’s Station Historic District was now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The District includes the station, the garage/museum, a two-room cabin, and the 3-room motel. Their desire to not just restore the station but to contribute to the identity of the Belle Plaine area begins with this.

Soon after designation, the grant writing process began. In July 2021, the signs had to come down so that Martin Gardner Architecture could begin preparing a Master Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan to preserve and restore the property properly.  In that same year, a grant was secured from the Benton County Community Foundation (of Northeast Iowa) for funds to hire Wadsworth Construction to access, stabilize, repair, and restore seven original garage windows. A grant for paint to paint the garage was obtained from Paint Iowa Beautiful. Other grants received to date include $5,000 from the Lincoln Highway Endowment, $10,000 from the Mansfield Charitable Foundation, and $10,000 from the MidWestOne Foundation.

The Master Plan includes looking at structural issues first at an estimated $150,000. The cost to restore the motel is estimated at $116,000 and the station, which includes the reconstruction of the front canopy, is expected to be $180,000. A two-room cabin is estimated at $69,500 for restoration and the Garage Museum comes in at $57,000.  

Restoration efforts thanks to a Paint Iowa Beautiful grant.

At an estimated total cost of $500,000, there is still a long road ahead before restoration will be complete for the future generations of Prestons, Belle Plaine, and Lincoln Highway enthusiasts. The storytelling that George H began and the legacy he created will continue to live on in the telling of stories and the artifacts left behind.

If you would like to contribute to the restoration efforts of the Preston Historic District or if you know of grant opportunities that are a good fit, visit Preston’s Station’s website or send your donations and ideas to Preston’s Station Historic District at 402 13th St, Belle Plaine, IA 52208.

Paul, Mary Helen, and George H. Preston.

A young Mary Helen Preston sitting on Grandpa George’s lap along with Paul Keisel.

Editor’s Note: Preston’s Station District is located near one of the intersections where both of the state byways that Prairie Rivers of Iowa manage for the Iowa Department of Transportation — the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway and the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway

Many thanks to Preston’s Station Historic District for providing photos and information that contributed to this article.

110 Years of the Lincoln Highway

110 Years of the Lincoln Highway

From Its Beginnings to Where We Are Today

The Idea
The idea was simple yet big. Carl Fisher wanted to gravel 3,400 miles of road across the US.  He planned to use communities to provide the equipment and manpower and in exchange for the work, the communities would receive the material free of charge. To fund the estimated $10 million for materials, Fisher appealed to auto manufacturers and parts companies to donate one percent of their revenues and to sell membership certificates to the public at $5 a person. There was even a timetable for the road to be done by the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition so that the host town of San Francisco would be accessible by New York City. Frank Seiberling, founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and Henry B. Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, were on board. Joy suggested naming the road after President Abraham Lincoln to gain patriotic support.

The following year on July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was officially established and the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway was given the name: The Lincoln Highway. Joy was the president and Fisher the vice president so it did not appear that it was only one man driving the plan.

Carl Fisher
Henry Joy Navigating the Official Packard i "Gumbo" near LaMoille, Iowa

The route would be the fastest and most direct route across the country. The Lincoln Highway Association set up consuls in each state who played a role in defining the precise alignment. The preliminary route was announced on Sept. 14th and the first official “contributor’s ticket” (member card) was issued to President Woodrow Wilson on Sept. 19th. With the route being announced, communities were pulling for their towns not to be left out, so the route was adjusted quickly and often but on Oct. 31st, the official route was dedicated so that celebrations could be had to promote the highway.

Henry Ford would not give his support for the plan because he believed that the government should build the roads. Support was low without Ford, so Joy and the Association came up with another promotional plan to generate interest by hosting “Seedling Mile” demonstration projects. The Portland Cement Association was pulled in to donate materials for mile-long paved sections of roadway in hopes of getting work to finish the roads. They were strategically placed near enough for communities to access but far enough that the rough roads had to be traversed to reach them. It was also hoped that this scheme would produce government interest in paved roads with the Lincoln Highway as an example. The first seedling mile was paved by October of 1914 west of Malta, Illinois. Iowa’s official seedling mile located between Mt Vernon and Cedar Rapids wasn’t completed until June 1919.

Seedling Mile Under Construction in Linn County, Iowa

Publicity & Branding
Several celebrities were drawn in to take trips across the Lincoln to advertise the entertainment industry while promoting the highway. To follow the route, the Lincoln Highway’s signature marked the way on telephone poles with the red band on top and blue on the bottom with the letter L in the center. By the 1920’s the telephone poles sported several roadways’ painted colors. Interest was growing in road trips.

In 1919, to test roads and military mobility, a US Army Convoy of 72 vehicles and 297 men traveled across the Lincoln Highway (having joined up in Gettysburg). Among the men on the trip was a young Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower who was greatly affected by the arduous trip. This trip was very heavily publicized and after the comments by the men on board, the government had to take notice.

Lincoln Highway Association Telephone Pole Sign
1919 US Army Convoy along Lincoln Highway in Tama, Iowa.

In 1919, to test roads and military mobility, a US Army Convoy of 72 vehicles and 297 men traveled across the Lincoln Highway. Tama, Iowa shown here.

MVPA Following Convoy Route During 2019 Centennial

Military Vehicle Preservation Association 2019 100th Anniversary Transcontinental Motor Convoy on Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Iowa.

The Government Gets Involved
The 1920s brought the federal government’s interest in building roads and the creation of numbered U.S. routes. In March 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) created a federal highway system identifying roadways with the official shield and number. They had now asserted control over the transcontinental route.

The Lincoln Highway Association was no longer needed and ceased operating on Dec 31, 1927 with 42 miles yet to be improved in politically charged Utah. As their last promotional stunt, they enlisted the Boy Scouts to install nearly 2,400 concrete markers along the Lincoln Highway and 4,000 metal signs in what is rumored to be a one-day installation in 1928.

In 1938, by the 25th Anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, the paving of the roadway in Utah was finally underway. But was it still the Lincoln Highway? Or was it a US highway? Was the Lincoln Highway then ever really completed? Or was it an entirely different highway by then? There is a difference. I will let you enjoy the struggle with the argument.

Lincoln Highway Boy Scout Marker Installation Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames, Iowa

The Rebirth
A group of individuals from seven Lincoln Highway states met on Oct 31, 1992, in Ogden, Iowa, to discuss the need “to identify, preserve and improve access to the remaining portions of the LH and its associated history sites.”  They soon formed a revived National Lincoln Highway Association, which today maintains a road map with a 1913 route, 2nd and 3rd generation routes, and auxiliary and detour routes.

In 2006, the Iowa Chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association, along with community leaders, and the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) designated the entire Iowa route as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway. This gave the Lincoln Highway visibility through the use of signage along the roadway and a managing entity (Prairie Rivers of Iowa) that would promote the intrinsic qualities of the historical, cultural, and natural resources of the Byway through education and economic improvements.

In 2021, then coordinator, Jan Gammon, with help from the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, was able to obtain National Scenic Byway status. The Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway was now alive.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Iowa

In Summary
The popularity that the Lincoln Highway experienced in its beginning has not been matched since.  So how can we change the narrative and bring the Lincoln Highway back in people’s mindfulness when we talk about historical roads? At a time when the Lincoln Highway is losing its’ few remaining greatest assets, aging historical structures and bridges, the mindset to value, rehabilitate, and creative reuse is the route to a new narrative for the next 110 years.

So when you see an anniversary date, take a second look. Celebrate it, talk about it, and change the public mindset to value the historical idea. And don’t forget to take a road trip!


Historical Note: Henry Joy wasn’t the first to suggest Lincoln as the name for America’s coast-to-coast highway. Read more here in Brain Butko’s Lincoln Highway News.

Lincoln Highway Map