A Lincoln Highway Gem — The Historic Lincoln Hotel

A Lincoln Highway Gem — The Historic Lincoln Hotel

One of the gems of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa is the historic Lincoln Hotel in Lowden, Iowa in Cedar County. Following a complete restoration, the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places 1996 by Susan Licht for the owners at the time Brad and Elizabeth Norton. They started restoration work in 1992 with a historic resource grant from the government. At that time, the town saw little value in the building and considered burning it to the ground. It had sat empty since 1981.

The inside, however, has changed numerous times and was qualified for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing with HUD-style light fixtures. It was then fully occupied by tenants. Importantly, the dog legged yellow pine staircase has been preserved.

Built in anticipation of the Lincoln Highway’s construction, America’s first transcontinental highway, the property is associated with events that made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. The original construction of the hotel started in March of 1915 by Cecelia Clemmens and her husband to coincide with the construction of the Lincoln Highway and was one of the first businesses in Lowden established to serve the automobile.

Lincoln Hotel Lowden Iowa

The historic Lincoln Hotel is located at the junction of Old Lincoln Highway and Hoover Highway in Lowden, Iowa. Built in 1915, the hotel originally hosted automobile travelers on the coast to coast Lincoln Highway. In 1996, after a complete rehabilitation, the Lincoln Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the construction of the new highway, came a demand for food and lodging from automobile travelers. The hotel provided an alternative to railroad hotels, campgrounds, and motor courts. At its beginning, a stay at the Lincoln Hotel cost $2 a night and a steak dinner was only 75 cents.

No longer $2 a night, wink the hotel still offers very affordable rates for each of its four suites that feature private baths, queen size beds, and luxury linens. And as their website notes, “guests can enjoy a quiet small-town setting surrounded by beautiful farms and scenic byways”. Most notably, the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway. It’s a great place to experience history while getting away from the craziness of everyday life. Don’t worry though, they do have Wi-Fi if you need a “reality check” during your stay.

Another factor of the hotel’s significance is the modern Prairie School architectural style, one of the only examples in Lowden. Elements that make up this style are the low-hipped roof, wide overhangs, and textured stucco with a neutral color. The building faces south with a wide front porch to cover guests from the elements.

In the 1990s, owners took the exterior down past the old stucco and rebuilt using a similar building method of pebble dash stucco. Everything on the outside is preserved close to its original state. The windows, the Tuscan-style columns on the porch, and galvanized pipe railings are all original.

More work was done in 2019 to incorporate modern amenities. “It has been fun and wonderful to restore,” according to Owner-Proprietor Melissa Schliff-Hardman, “We are very proud to operate the hotel.”

The Lincoln Hotel during restoration.
The Lincoln Hotel as it Stands Today

Today local events drive visitors according to Schliff-Hardman. “We see people come for birthdays, family reunions, and the occasional wedding,” she reveals. Bicyclists feel at home too includung a place for bike storage inside. Lincoln Highway enthusiasts and car clubs stay from time to time and appreciate the history. “Some visitors are train enthusiasts too and stay for the soothing night train sounds,” adds Melissa.

A Preservation Iowa “Preservation at Its Best” award winner, the Lincoln Hotel is a fine example of what can be done to preserve Lincoln Highway in Iowa cultural and historic places. Visit them on the web at www.lincolnhoteliowa.com to learn more and make your reservation. You will enjoy your stay!

The Historic Lincoln Hotel
408 Main Street
Lowden, Iowa 52255
(818) 430-2942

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Sign Inventory Completed

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Sign Inventory Completed

As the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway coordinator, I recently had the privilege of seeing every corner of the Byway from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River — crossing every river in between. The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) asked byway coordinators to inventory every byway sign on their respective byways across Iowa. For me, that meant 1100 miles, including both sides of the road, and the loops through downtowns. The goal was to complete the inventory before winter begins. We finished just before the big pre-Christmas storm in 2022.

Overall the signs are in good condition and help tell the story of the Byway. But in areas, they go missing, especially where there has been redevelopment along a main street or where new highways have been expanded. Some signs even have a few bullet holes in them. IDOT now has the location and condition of all Iowa Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway signs so improvements can be made.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Jonathan Sherwood

I can’t take all the credit. I had the benefit of having a Prairie Rivers of Iowa volunteer to switch off data entry and driving. My job would have been made much more difficult without a helper who was so thoughtful and thorough. It also made it easier to take in the beautiful landscape along the journey.

We chose to do the inventory on the weekends from October to December and were witness to the seasons changing. Not only that each town had its own charm and many were decked out for the holiday season. One afternoon an awe-inspiring fog frosted the countryside and town trees. Garland, lights, wreaths, and bows adorned lampposts and store frontages along brick-paved streets. This is not to mention the tenderloin and loose meat sandwiches along the way. (Pictured: Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown)

Some folks call Iowa flat, but if you travel the Lincoln Highway in Iowa you’ll see it’s not. In Pottawattamie County, the Lincoln actually goes from north to south for a segment where you can see the sculpted deposits as peaked hills with narrow ridges as the windblown Loess Hills between the divide of the Missouri River Alluvial Plain.

I’m a native Iowan but have never had the opportunity to see Iowa in such a way. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway traverses landscape changes from west to east from its landforms. There’s the Missouri River Alluvial Plain, Loess Hills, Southern Iowa Drift, the Des Moines Lobe, Iowan Surface, and East-Central Iowa Drift Plain.

Along the way, Iowa’s byways crisscross, adding to the allure of America’s Byways® in Iowa. One way to understand Iowa and its cultural and natural resources is to travel along its byways. That’s why byway signs are so integral to telling Iowa’s story. They are part of the deep heritage of wayfinding that began in the 1910s with telephone pole paintings and Boy Scout markers.

Iowa Winter Scenes Along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Corridor

Mount Crescent Ski Area Along the Lincoln Highway Corridor

Mt. Crescent Ski Area in Honey Creek

Lincoln Highway Farm Scene near Carroll Iowa

Farm Scene Near Carroll

Niland's Corner Along Lincoln Highway in Colo Iowa

Historic Niland’s Corner Near Colo

Bonus Video

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Complete Sign Inventory Begins

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Complete Sign Inventory Begins

On a recent beautiful crisp fall morning, Prairie Rivers of Iowa staff and a volunteer set out to travel the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway through urban streets and gravel roads in Story and Boone counties. Byway Coordinator Jonathan Sherwood is starting a new project across all thirteen counties and 43 municipalities to inventory and assess the condition of the Byway’s signage. These signs are a critical part byway infrastructure and have historical significance as an evolution of what came before.

From the beginning of the Lincoln Highway, tools were needed to assist the traveler including guidebooks and signs along the route. In the early era of the established transcontinental route, signs were painted on telephone poles ad hoc by local councils and volunteers.

Today travelers along the historic route in Iowa rely on guidebooks, maps, and signage. These aids are thanks to the efforts of many individuals, organizations such as Prairie Rivers, and government agencies like the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).

Lincoln Highway Activity Guide and Map
Lincoln Highway Vintage Style Telephone Pole Marker
Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Signage in Need of Repair After Tornado

Over time all the byway signs need to be maintained. The condition of the signs has ranged from excellent to vandalized, bent, and faded from the sun. Some signs are missing from their original location. The signs are always located at any turn with directional arrows. They are also located after any turn in the route where another sign confirms that the traveler is on the right path.

The inventory aims to improve the quality of the signage out on the roadway network, improve the life cycle of each sign from ordering, fabricating, installing, maintaining, and removing, improve the ability to budget for these key assets on a statewide basis, provide a tool for the decision maker to do signage related scenario planning.

The Iowa DOT has developed a geospatial program to maintain and update data on locations and conditions of signs statewide. Prairie Rivers’ staff are using iPads with ESRI’s ArcGIS Field Maps app loaded with IDOT data to wholly complete the survey. Previously condition reports were recorded based on individual needs, at specific times, in different districts or regions.

According to PRI staff, “This is a great way to see the byway while traveling down gravel roads at 25 mph, much like the original traveler in their Ford Model T.”

The project is expected to run through the fall and wrap up before road conditions deteriorate.

The project is expected to run through the fall and wrap up before road conditions deteriorate.
Lincoln Highway National heritage Byway in Woodbine Iowa
Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Marshall County Iowa
Lincoln Highway Natiional heritage Byway in Carroll Iowa