Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Awards Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) Grant

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Awards Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) Grant

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs has awarded Prairie Rivers of Iowa a Historic Resources Development Project (HRDP) grant to assess the condition of the approximately 319 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway (LHHB) in Iowa.

Many historic properties have been lost over the years, and this survey is a critical first step in preserving them. Historic properties can be especially at risk because awareness of their value and knowledge of appropriate upkeep methods is often lost over time.

Established in 1913, the LHHB was the country’s first improved coast-to-coast highway. In 2021, it was nationally recognized by the National Scenic Byway Foundation as a National Heritage Byway for its contribution to transportation history. 

Lincoln Hotel Lowden Iowa
Lincoln Highway Bridge Tama Iowa

Like the wagon train trails and railways before it, the Lincoln Highway opened cities and rural communities alike to vital population and commercial growth more than 100 years ago and brings heritage tourism and pride of place today. One-third of Iowans still live along the Lincoln Highway corridor and recognition of the Lincoln Highway connection is evident in festivals such as Nevada’s Lincoln Highway Days celebrated every August, and parks, like the Lincoln Highway Lion’s Club Tree Park in Grand Junction.

If you own or have knowledge of a property on the Lincoln Highway that is on the National Register of Historic Places, we would like to hear about it. Please contact Shellie Orngard, Project Manager, sorngard@prrcd.org.

Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America

Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America

Currently on display at the City of Nevada, Iowa  Public Library through September 30, 2022. Check back for the next location.

Promise Road tells the story of how the Lincoln Highway knit together the nation in the early days of the automobile and helps communities grow. It was created by Prairie Rivers of Iowa with funding from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, a grant from the Greater Iowa Credit Union, and support from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“Many of us have driven the Lincoln Highway but haven’t realized its significance for the unfolding of our country’s modern history. This exhibition tells that story,” said Shellie Orngard, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway coordinator.

Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibit

The building of the Lincoln Highway was initiated in 1913, when most people traveled by foot or by horse and the roads were mud or gravel. America’s first coast-to-coast highway, the Lincoln Highway starts in Times Square, New York City, and travels through 14 states, ending at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A dramatic story of ingenuity, personality, and commerce, Promise Road will engage visitors in a new understanding of and appreciation of our forgotten past and what it means for us today.

1st president of the Lincoln Highway Association Henry Joy in the mud (gumbo) - near La Mouille, Iowa June 1915.

The exhibit’s first stop was at the Greene County Historical Society in Jefferson, Iowa including a special presentation by Bob and Joyce Ausberger of rural Greene County, who helped found the new national Lincoln Highway Association in 1992, which now has hundreds of members across the country and around the world. It will eventually travel to all the 13 Iowa counties traversed by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.

In 2021, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Iowa was recognized as a National Scenic Byway. The National Scenic Byways Program is a voluntary, community-based program administered through the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa manages the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Iowa on behalf of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibit at Greene County Historical Museum
Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibition  Premiers at the 2022 Bell Tower Festival

Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibition Premiers at the 2022 Bell Tower Festival

An audiovisual exhibition telling the story of the national Lincoln Highway debuts at the Bell Tower Festival in Jefferson this year. Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America opened June 9 at the Greene County Historical Society Museum and will remain through June 26.

“Many of us have driven the Lincoln Highway but haven’t realized its significance for the unfolding of our country’s modern history. This exhibition tells that story,” said Shellie Orngard, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway coordinator.

Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibit

The building of the Lincoln Highway was initiated in 1913, when most people traveled by foot or by horse and the roads were mud or gravel. America’s first coast-to-coast highway, the Lincoln Highway starts in Times Square, New York City, and travels through 14 states, ending at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A dramatic story of ingenuity, personality, and commerce, Promise Road will engage visitors in a new understanding of and appreciation of our forgotten past and what it means for us today.

The exhibition culminates with a presentation on June 26 by Bob and Joyce Ausberger of rural Greene County, who helped found the new national Lincoln Highway Association in 1992, which now has hundreds of members across the country and around the world.

1st president of the Lincoln Highway Association Henry Joy in the mud (gumbo) - near La Mouille, Iowa June 1915.

After this first stop in Greene County, the exhibition will travel to Marshall and Story counties, and on to the rest of the 13 Iowa counties traversed by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.

The traveling exhibit Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America was funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and with support from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

In 2021, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Iowa was recognized as a National Scenic Byway. The National Scenic Byways Program is a voluntary, community-based program administered through the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads. 

For more information about the national Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Iowa, visit Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s website at prrcd.org. Prairie Rivers of Iowa is a nonprofit focused on conserving natural and cultural resources, using its expertise to address Iowa’s most challenging needs. It manages the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Iowa on behalf of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

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.