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.

Lincoln Highway – A Poem by Amelia Kibbie

Lincoln Highway – A Poem by Amelia Kibbie

Hover then click the arrows to move from one verse to the next (best seen on desktop).

Lincoln Highway

by Amelia Kibbie

It’s hard to imagine now

as our modern mobiles whisper past

that along this road

horses and herds of cattle passed

and the air was splattered

with the jangled rattle of Model A’s and T’s

the clattered patter of Tin Lizzies.

New York, New York

1914 Times Square

This city, our homegrown gotham

the gateway to America

and the road started there or ended — beginnings and endings

are muddled, as is our mixed memory
and truth-stained history.

Named for Lincoln

who put pen to paper and called for freedom

freedom, the siren song of the automobile

“Life is a Highway”

“Every Day is a Winding Road”

“Bacon and eggs to fix…”

Never mind that the children of those he freed

had to use the Green Book to

keep them safe as they traversed this path

and many others.

Was that freedom?

Nostalgia is not memory

but from sea to shining sea,

follow the hood ornament

until you’ve reached the terminus

the Golden Gate, so named

by a pathfinder-colonizer

All that’s left is the open ocean.

Think of this place

where we stand

as a bead strung on a necklace

that adorns the decolletage of our country

some jewels bigger or more intricate than others

but hanging on the same chain

and just as precious.

Traveled to this day,

the roads were the pride of ancient Rome

a piece of history, yes

but to us

this road leads home.

About the author :

Amelia Kibbie is an author, poet, and lifelong educator. Her debut novel Legendary was published in 2019 by Running Wild Press. Amelia’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including the pro-human sci-fi collection Humans Wanted, We Cryptids, Enter the Rebirth, and My American Nightmare: Women in Horror. The literary journals Saw Palm, Quantum Fairy Tales, Wizards in Space, and Intellectual Refuge have featured her work. Her next project is to renovate the turn-of-the-century church she just purchased into a home with the help of her husband, daughter, and four cats. She served on the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission and as Mt. Vernon/Lisbon Poet Laureate in 2020. Her most recent publication is a book of poems paired with and inspired by the photography of Robert Campagna, a local photographer who was once her teacher. Final Elegance is available by special order — email ameliamk1983@gmail.com for details or visit ameliakibbie.com.

Amelia Kibbie
Sources of Financial Assistance for Preserving Historical Buildings

Sources of Financial Assistance for Preserving Historical Buildings

Preston's Station Historic District along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Belle Plaine, Iowa.

Many property owners are eager to find financial assistance for rehabilitating, preserving, or maintaining their structures, whether it is for a modest private residence or a large commercial building. Tax incentives may be available at the federal, state, or local level to support historically sensitive work on recognized historic properties. Finding the right opportunity for your project can be complicated, but your local city government or historic preservation commission may help advise you. Because tax codes change frequently, consultation with a qualified tax attorney, accountant, or the Internal Revenue Service is recommended.

Here are some sources of financial assistance to consider :

GRANTS

Historical Resource Development Program (HRDP): This competitive grant program can be used to fund the rehabilitation of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Grants are made annually for up to $50,000. Details can be found at Historical Resource Development Program | IDCA (iowa.gov).

TAX CREDITS

State Historic Tax Credit:  Property owners can get credit for up to 25% of their qualified rehabilitation costs (basically anything attached to the building; however, site work does not qualify). The building must be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places but does not actually have to be listed. Qualifying properties include private residences, barns, commercial properties, and properties owned by nonprofits, including houses of worship. The project must be a substantial rehabilitation, which is defined based on a formula that involves comparing the adjusted basis of the property to the cost of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures.

Maple Grove Schoolhouse along the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway in Marengo, Iowa.
The Lincoln Hotel in Lowden, Iowa as it stands today.

The formula is different depending on whether the building is commercial or noncommercial. The rehabilitation work must be done according to guidelines that are used in historic preservation work across the country and are the reference point for tax credit and grant programs in addition to being best practices. These are called the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Credits may be fully refundable and are transferable if sold to a new owner. You can find more information about the state tax credit at Historic Preservation Tax Credit | Iowa Economic Development Authority (iowaeda.com)

Federal Historic Tax Credit: Property owners can get credit for up to 20% of qualified rehabilitation costs. This credit is intended for depreciable, income-producing properties. Many of the same requirements for the state tax credit program apply to the federal credit, thus the groundwork laid for one can be reused for the other. The building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or be eligible for listing (the property must be listed within 30 months after taking the credit). Credit is not refundable, but it can be carried forward and used for over 20 years. The rehabilitation work must follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

When used together with the state credit, the federal historic tax credit can equal a total credit of 45% of the rehabilitation costs. Public Law No: 115-97 made a change stating that the 20 percent credit can be claimed so that those who qualify for the tax credit would receive 4 percent per year for five years rather than 20 percent for one year. For more information, visit National Park Service Historic Property Tax Incentives.

Historic building along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Jefferson, Iowa.

GUIDELINES for REHABILITATION

If you would like to know more about the guidelines for the treatment of historic buildings, please see the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards on the Treatment of Historic Properties of the National Park Service.

ADDITIONAL USEFUL LINKS

A source of practical information is the National Park Service’s technical preservation services publications Technical Preservation Services Publications – Technical Preservation Services (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Preservation Briefs can be a helpful starting place for specific building issues: Preservation Briefs – Technical Preservation Services (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

 

Appreciation for this information goes to Allison Archambo, Certified Local Government Coordinator, State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa, and Michael M. Belding, State Historic Preservation Office of Nebraska.

Meet Our New Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator

Meet Our New Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator

On the surface Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s new Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway (LHNHB) Coordinator Jonathan Sherwood radiates a friendly, yet quiet demeanor. Already it has become apparent he knows how to bring people together as a great listener with empathy and thoughtfulness. Despite his calm exterior, digging deeper, we have quickly learned he has a deep passion for historic preservation and community development.

Something else everyone should know about Sherwood is that he was born for his new role being from, and now once again living in, the Lincoln Highway community of Nevada, Iowa. Some of his earliest memories include enjoying spirited parades during Lincoln Highway Days. “Nothing compares to the quality of life in Central Iowa and growing up one house off the Lincoln Highway,” he relates.

In his new role, Sherwood is taking on the often gargantuan task of bringing together governments, businesses, civic organizations, tourism officials, history buffs and transportation enthusiasts together as Prairie Rivers continues a new chapter of Byway management. According to Prairie Rivers of Iowa Executive Director Penny Brown Huber, “Jonathan is an excellent listener which is a skill that helps when reaching out to so many different community leaders.”

As byway coordinator, Sherwood’s duties will encompass working across the 13 Iowa counties and 43 towns that stretch along the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, river to river, east to west from Clinton on the Mississippi to Council Bluffs on the Missouri.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Jonathan Sherwood

Prairie Rivers of Iowa LHNHB Coordinator Jonathan Sherwood during a recent visit to the historic Reed Niland Corner at the intersection of the Lincoln and Jefferson Highways.

He is committed to restoring, protecting and preserving the cultural and natural resources in Iowa. “This work provides the opportunity for me to work on some of the things I’m most passionate about, people, transportation, and the environment,” says Sherwood.

According to Huber, some of the reasons Sherwood was hired for the position include his degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University and his previous work experience in transportation and rural communities with an emphasis on geographic information systems (GIS). “His time working with communities to utilize trails for economic development activities made him an excellent fit to be the LHNHB Coordinator,” states Huber.

Sherwood is a member of the Institute of Certified Planners (ACIP) and is currently pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree at ISU. He is replacing Shellie Orngard as the new LHNHB Coordinator who is now focused on Prairie Rivers special projects including an evaluation of properties along the Lincoln Highway that are on, or should be, on the National Register of Historic Places. To contact Sherwood email him at jsherwood@prrcd.org.

In his spare time, Sherwood enjoys gardening and traveling to Iowa’s state parks. Be sure to keep an eye out for him along the Byway!

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Iowa

The Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway is Iowa’s longest and most historic byway, traveling through more than 460 miles of history, recreation, and welcoming Iowa communities.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s LHNHB program is a community-driven statewide historical effort to preserve the story of the places and people of the byway. We are committed to the conservation, preservation, and responsible use of all of the byway’s natural, historical, cultural, and community resources while building upon local assets strengthening and sharing its economic vitality. 

Please join us and thousands of other travelers along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway – Iowa’s section of America’s original Main Street.