Update on Status of the Bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa

Update on Status of the Bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa

The bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa, will be preserved in its current location, in a decision made at the March 21 Tama City Council meeting. City Council member Ann Michael, who had been pushing to repair the bridge, said after the meeting, “It took the work of all of us to preserve this historic little bridge.”

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and considered one of the most visited sites along the Lincoln Highway nationally, the Tama Bridge has been cited for repair since 2016. 

Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, Iowa

With the assistance of Prairie Rivers of Iowa, nearly $100 thousand dollars have been raised for that purpose which, along with funding from the Iowa Department of Transportation would have paid for the repairs, but various administrative issues have delayed the project.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard at Tama City Council

PRI Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard speaking in support of the historic Lincoln Highway Bridge to Tama City Council. KCRG Photo

Earlier this year, the Tama City Council began to consider moving the bridge and replacing it with a culvert, sparking a nationwide campaign to contact the Council or attend City Council meetings and ask them to save the bridge and repair it in place.

To gain a full understanding of the options, Tama city staff called a meeting with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) that included representatives from the Iowa Department of Transportation, City of Tama, the structural engineering firm Shuck-Britson, Prairie Rivers of Iowa, and the Lincoln Highway Association. SHPO indicated that moving the bridge without prior approval would cause it to be de-listed from the National Register.

A process to gain such pre-approval could take two years, with no guarantees of re-listing. Additionally, the project engineer cast doubt on the feasibility of moving the concrete structure and maintaining its structural integrity. With this information, and the prodigious input from people across the country, the Tama City Council decided to let bids for repair through the Iowa DOT. City Council members said they were surprised by the amount of interest and the passion for bridge’s preservation from so many people across the country.

Historic Bridges Face Challenges Along Lincoln Highway in Iowa

Historic Bridges Face Challenges Along Lincoln Highway in Iowa

One of the most visually impressive historic bridges along the Lincoln Highway in Iowa was the Lyons-Fulton Bridge, which opened in 1891 on July 4th of that year to much fanfare. Crossing the Mighty Mississippi before the bridge required time and access to a ferry boat, a calculus definitively changed once the bridge was constructed between Fulton, Illinois, and Lyons, Iowa. Not only did the Lyons-Fulton affect the ease of travel, it was a feat of engineering, and an aesthetically captivating one at that. But don’t make plans to see and admire it the next time you cross the Mississippi. It was replaced in 1975 by the Mark Morris Memorial Bridge. While deterioration of the bridge undoubtedly demanded its replacement, there are a number of existing historic bridges along the Lincoln that need to be kept up to avoid being lost.
Sidebar: Dedicated Lyons and Fulton Bridge High Bridge is a Reality from The Clinton Daily Herald; Sunday, July 6, 1891, P. 7
Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, Iowa
Arguably the most iconic bridge along the entire Lincoln Highway — which stretches from Times Square in New York City to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco — is right here in Iowa. The Bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, built in 1915, is known for its distinctive design with railings that spell “Lincoln Highway” and lamp posts gracing each of its four corners. It’s a working bridge along a truck route with a packing plant and paper mill nearby. Needed repairs have been postponed by administrative delays, and now the City of Tama is considering whether to repair the bridge or move it to a nearby park and replace it with a culvert.
The discussion will continue at the next Tama City Council meeting on March 21, and many people who are interested in preserving the bridge will be in attendance to voice their opinions. If you are unable to attend, you can express a note of support by calling or emailing the mayor and city council members found here: https://www.tamacityia.gov/mayor-city-council.
One less well-known section of the old Lincoln Highway is in Clinton County, where a trio of bridges on the Wapsipinicon River near Calamus and Wheatland have deteriorated to the extent they needed to be closed. For byway travelers who want to know what it would have been like to travel the Lincoln Highway in 1920, this is a good place to visit. Because the bridges are closed, viewing the bridges will require some walking, but it’s a beautiful rural landscape. You might even see some of the original Portland cement road. A 2005 analysis done by Iowa State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture ranked this section highest in the state for driving experience, road design, and landscape integrity.
Wapsipinicon Bridge
Prairie Rivers of Iowa, along with the Lincoln Highway Association and local preservationists are looking at options to preserve the area, and maybe turn it into a park for future visitors. Bob Ausberger, one of the founders of the modern national Lincoln Highway Association, stated, “The Wapsipinicon wetland is one of the top 10 visitor destinations along the Lincoln Highway in Iowa. I’m concerned that without careful and comprehensive planning, the historic district will lose its importance as part of the national historic byway, as well as its ability to serve local interests.”

Interest in Iowa tourism is at a peak. Iowa’s Tourism office reports that travel to and in Iowa is up 14.8 % comparing 2022 with pre-pandemic numbers. At the same time, we see many challenges to historic properties for travelers to see. The historical resources remaining on the Lincoln Highway need to be kept in good condition if we are going to have them continue as signposts of the past, and bridges are some of the most endangered among them.

History Made in 1995 as the 1st African American Woman Elected as a Mayor in Iowa 

History Made in 1995 as the 1st African American Woman Elected as a Mayor in Iowa 

LaMetta Wynn etched her place in Iowa history in 1995 by becoming the first African American woman to be elected as mayor in Iowa and only the second African American to hold that office in the state. Wynn was first elected at age 62 as mayor of the now Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway community of Clinton, Iowa after working a career as a registered nurse and raising 10 children. She served three terms in office. Television crews came from as far away as Germany and The Netherlands to interview her, finding her election remarkable in what was then 97-percent-white Iowa. She served three terms in office.

Iowa's first African American female mayor LaMetta Wynn being sworn in on January 3, 1996 as mayor of Clinton, Iowa.

Clinton Herald photo.

LaMetta Wynn shown on November 8, 1995 after Clinton, IA mayor election win.

Clinton, Iowa mayor-elect smiling after her election win in 1995.  Clinton Herald photo.

Iowa’s governors recognized her talent too. Gov. Tom Vilsack appointed her to the ground-breaking Vision Iowa board, Gov. Terry Branstad named her to the Commission on the Status of African-Americans, and Gov. Chet Culver appointed her to the State Board of Education. One observer commented that Wynn “carries a hammer in her purse; important doors open to her and she has the ability to bring government together.” Wynn made many other contributions to her family and community before passing away June 24, 2021.

The Lincoln Highway Bridge Over Mud Creek in Tama in Need of Repair

The Lincoln Highway Bridge Over Mud Creek in Tama in Need of Repair

One of the most iconic bridges in the 3,389 mile length of the historic transcontinental Lincoln Highway is in Tama, Iowa, and its structural integrity is in need of repair. As manager of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, Prairie Rivers of Iowa has been working with the City of Tama to restore and protect the bridge, but process delays and COVID have slowed progress to a near standstill.

Tama Bridge showing state of disrepair
Military Vehicle Preservation Association crossing Tama Bridge in 2019

The Tama Lincoln Highway bridge holds an important place in the history of transportation in our country. It was constructed in 1915 when Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States and before we got tangled up in World War I. It was the year Babe Ruth hit his first career home run. Half of the US population lived on the farm, and most transportation was still by foot or horse. The Model T was popular and promised increased mobility but roads could be treacherous, especially after a rain. 

The idea for the first improved transcontinental highway generated support across the country and gave birth to the Lincoln Highway Association. Towns along the roadway’s charted path were grateful for the honor, anticipating an influx of travelers and hence growth in commerce.

Tama’s now-famous bridge was constructed to attract interest and burnish the town’s image as a destination. Designed by Iowa Highway Commission architect Paul N. Kingsley, the Lincoln Highway Bridge is distinctive for spelling out the name of the roadway in its railings. Concrete lampposts topped by globe lights decorated the bridge’s four corners, adding to its graceful charm.

The Tama bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, nominated by the Tama Bicentennial Commission. The nomination included a quote from the July 1919 Lincoln Highway Forum, a publication of the Lincoln Highway Association, asserting that the bridge is “a good example of up-to-date highway advertising. Tourists over this section of the famous road cannot fail to be impressed with the advertising values as well as the pleasing and distinctive appearance of this unique feature of bridge construction.”

While the bridge has continued to attract admirers over the years, time has taken its toll. Prairie Rivers of Iowa has worked with the City of Tama to assess the integrity and safety of the bridge and put together a plan for its restoration. In 2018 PRI applied for and received a grant from the state Historical Resource Development Program of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to help cover the costs. Additional support and funding has come from the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, the Mansfield Foundation, and other donors, but a series of delays and the advent of COVID have held up progress. In October of this year, the Iowa DOT informed Tama that Iowa Code necessitates yet another delay to gather additional information and rebid the work. Meanwhile, the original cost estimate of $115,000 has mushroomed to over $300,000.

The Tama-Toledo News Chronicle reported in October that the City of Tama is planning to re-bid the project and complete the repair by August 2022, but the situation is being closely monitored by PRI, the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, and history buffs across the nation.


Introducing Our New Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator

Introducing Our New Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator

My introduction to historic preservation began with the “Condemned Building” sign posted on the door I passed through to get to my desk when I was a graduate student at Iowa State University. The building was Agricultural Hall, then called Old Botany. Despite its state of disrepair, I was enchanted by the red brick with limestone trim and stately architecture. I imagined the stories of myriad students who passed through the same doorway in earlier days, on their ways to classes, degrees, jobs, and careers.

Shelly Orngard

Disturbed by the prospect of the building’s demolition, I volunteered to research and write an article about it for the student newspaper, perhaps stir up some interest in its preservation. In an interview with the staff person responsible for Old Botany, I asked about saving the structure and was told “why would we invest money in repairing this building when we could build a new one for the same money?” I countered, “you can build a new building, but you can’t build an old one.”

I don’t think I had much to do with the salvation of that beautiful old building, but I do know it now graces the north side of ISU’s Central Campus. Now named Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, it is one of the jewels of the campus.

Not every old structure has the intrinsic qualities of Catt Hall, but they all have a story, and many are worth preserving, protecting, and promoting. That is why I am so pleased to be given the opportunity to do this work along the Lincoln Highway as the Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator.

As I said to my son this week, one of the blessings of getting older is the feeling that everything I’ve done previously in life has prepared me for the work I’m now doing. The stories my grandmother told me of growing up in Buena Vista County in the early 20th Century gave me an appreciation of history and preserving the stories and artifacts of the past. This paved the way for my advocating for preserving the historic Catt and Morrill buildings on the Iowa State University campus, and then serving five years on the City of Ames Historic Preservation Commission and supporting the Ames Main Street District. I bought a circa 1915 house in the historic North Old Town of Ames and am continuously working to restore its historical integrity while adapting it to modern convenience. And my work at WOI Radio and the Iowa State University Press, teaching writing in ISU’s Department of English, helping teach and coordinate the place-based education course Life in Iowa, and editing the Agricultural History journal have helped me think and communicate on living well on this land between two rivers.

Running 460 miles through 13 counties and 43 communities, not to mention some of God’s most fertile green earth, the Lincoln Highway contains beautiful one-of-a-kind structures like the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, restored tourist stops like Youngville Station near Watkins, and vestiges of a bygone era like Watson’s Grocery Store in State Center. But for every one of those that is preserved and protected, there are many that are not and whose stories remain buried. Every year, cities are rebuilt, all too frequently destroying the opportunity for restoration.

I hope you’ll join me in this process of discovering our shared history and preserving it for future generations.

Youngville Station
Lincoln Highway Bridge Tama, Iowa
Watson's Grocery