Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America

Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America

The exhibition Promise Road: How the Lincoln Highway Changed America will be open at the Gutekunst Public Library in State Center August 8-20. Local historian Harlan Quick will give a presentation on “The Impact of the Lincoln Highway on Marshall County” at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, August 10, in the library’s Fireside Room.

The exhibition then moves to the Nevada Public Library on Monday, August 22, in time for Lincoln Highway Days, August 26-27.

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

Byway Coordinator Retiring

Sad to say, but this is the last blog I will write as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator. It has been a fun-filled six years in this position. At times it doesn’t seem like that much time could have passed. But it has. As I reflect, we accomplished quite a bit.
Going back through quarterly and annual reports, I learned I gave over 65 presentations to cities, counties, and service groups. Some of these were in person and some virtual. I also manned booths at local celebrations and at the Iowa State Fair. At several community 125th or 150th year celebrations, we had an entry in the parade. These experiences allowed me to meet the people who live along the Byway and those interested in the Lincoln Highway. All are great people with a passion for their communities and I wish them well.

As with most non-profit programs, it takes a village to run a successful program. Thanks to the Prairie Rivers of Iowa (PRI) board members. They helped with events, manned booths, and supported the Byway efforts 100%. To Penny Brown-Huber, PRI Executive Director, I owe her everything. She took a chance on an older person who went back to grad school in her 50’s and gave me the job I know I was destined for. Still remember looking at the job posting and saying to myself, “I can do that. I can do that,” as I scrolled through the duties. Then I read through them again to see if there was anything I didn’t want to do. NOPE! I interviewed and was hired.

To the staff: I appreciate Dan Haug who helps the program by creating maps; Carman Rosburg who does the accounting work, keeps me in office supplies, and volunteers to help with events; and I appreciate those countless interns and now Joshua Benda, our Graphic Designer, as they have and continue to do the design work on interpretive panels and brochures- I owe you all a ton of gratitude. It is your unwavering dedication to your job and your professionalism that kept me motivated.

Mahanay Bell Tower in Jefferson by Mike Whye

The Iowa Byways program has seen some changes. Currently we are working with Travel Iowa with the Iowa Byways Passport Program. This program has allowed all 14 Iowa Byways to be more visible to the public and the program has really taken off. With summer approaching soon and vaccines available, I hope you all will get out and travel around Iowa. We have a beautiful and interesting state with much to see and do. I have new favorites from my travels along the Byway. Some of them are the Tremont and Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, the view from the Elijah Buell Terrace by the Sawmill Museum in the Lyon’s District of Clinton, and the view from Mahanay Bell Tower in Jefferson is breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles from the observation deck. And who can leave out Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center near Missouri Valley. Kathy Dirks and staff are so welcoming and they have tons of Lincoln Highway info – and even a movie! I could go on and on.

Old Car at Youngville by Mike Kelly

I appreciate Henry Ostermann who knew the Lincoln Highway better than anyone from 1913-1920. He lost his life in an accident on his beloved highway. And to all those auto pioneers who helped develop roads and cars – if they could see us now with our climate control, GPS, parallel parking aides, satellite radio, video monitors, back-up cameras and large SUVs. That’s all stuff they probably didn’t even imagine could be possible.

I appreciate the folks in the Lincoln Highway Association that brought attention back to the road in 1992 when they re-formed the national association. To Bob, Joyce, Dean, Jeannie, Bob O., Cathy, Lyell, Rex, Mary Helen, Joe, Kathy, Barbara, Mike, Sandii, and Van – your expertise and knowledge of the Lincoln Highway was invaluable. And a special shout-out to Russell Rein, the current LHA Field Secretary, who lives in Michigan. He has answered every question I’ve asked him in a super timely manner. I am amazed at his knowledge.

As I prepare for my last day on April 16th, I am extremely proud that we have a both a Corridor Management Plan and an Interpretive Master Plan to follow that outlines the direction for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway. And I am over the moon that we can add “ – A National Scenic Byway” to our title. It is time to hand the baton off and let a new person take the lead.

I thank all of you for reading this and for your interest and support of the Lincoln Highway and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway- A National Scenic Byway. I had to say it one more time!

Jan Gammon

Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

Iowa’s Lincoln Highway Is Now a National Scenic Byway!

The long awaited announcement came the morning of February 16th, 2021 that the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway has been given the designation of a National Scenic Byway!
This was a long-awaited award and work towards it began in 2016 when working on the Corridor Management Plan (CMP)and talked about even prior to that.

The Lincoln Highway, although the first improved transcontinental road in the nation, is a fairly newer byway in Iowa. The Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byway program is over 20 years old. The Lincoln Highway was nominated by the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association and brought into the fold as a state byway in 2006 (making it 15 years in 2021).

Woodbine’s bricked Lincoln Highway

A byway is made up of 6 intrinsic qualities: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway’s main quality is historic and we focus on that aspect in many of our programs and marketing materials. To be a National Scenic Byway one of these qualities needs to be of high value and the route has to already be recognized as a state byway through their DOT.

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Corridor Management Plan (CMP).

As part of Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s agreement with the Iowa DOT to manage this byway, we created a CMP using criteria set out by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). We held community meetings and visited with residents, government officials (local, county, and state) and other organizations to see what amenities existed in each of the intrinsic qualities. Our plan gathered ideas and feelings of the 13 counties and 43 communities our byway ties together as we prepared our to-do lists of projects. One of the topics, and identified as a state-wide project, was for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to apply to be a National Scenic Byway.

There was only one small problem. The National Scenic Byway program was sitting on FHWA’s shelf. It was still a program, but was not active and not being funded. It wasn’t revived until 2020 when the program welcomed new designations (no funding included). The stars had aligned for us- the Scenic Byway program was revived and taking applications, we had a completed our CMP, we also had an Interpretive Master Plan, and we had overwhelming support of our communities to make this application. See https://www.prrcd.org/lincoln-highway-corridor-management-plan/for the full CMP.

Once the work began in earnest on the multi-page application, we needed to identify 8 important locations that supported our chosen “Historic” quality. It was difficult to narrow the choices down to just 8 and even them out across Iowa to show an accurate impression of the Lincoln Highway route in Iowa.

The locations chosen were:

  • The Sawmill Museum, Clinton
  • Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County
  • Preston’s Station Historic District, Belle Plaine
  • Lincoln Highway Bridge, Tama
  • Reed-Niland Corner, Colo
  • Carroll Railroad Depot, Carroll
  • Brick Street, Woodbine
  • Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center, Missouri Valley
Youngville Cafe, rural Benton County, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built by Joe Young in his pasture for his widowed daughter to operate the gas station, cafe, and cabins. She and her children lived upstairs.

Also included in the application was a route map and a turn-by-turn description of the 460+ mile Iowa Byway route, traveler information about nearby airports and interstates/highways, restroom availability, brochures and marketing materials that are available, etc. It was a very intensive application and took a team to write it and to create the map.

Our application was reviewed and submitted in June 2020 by the Iowa DOT and then the waiting began. FHWA said in late summer 2020 that they had made their recommendations to the Office of Administration and Office of Transportation for them to review and approve the list. Approval finally happened on January 19, 2021 but the announcement not made until February 16th.

We are so excited to embark on this new journey as a National Scenic Byway and the exposure we will receive now on a national level. Even during a pandemic, we have been delighted to see visitors check-in to locations in our new passport program with Travel Iowa. This program rolled out in January 2020 and will run for a year. All eight of the above locations are, or will be, a part of this passport program. It’s another way we encourage people to travel and learn more about this historic road.

We’ll see you on the Byway – now a NATIONAL Scenic Byway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

Come Explore on the Lincoln Highway!

One month in and 2021 is looking very promising for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway! The Iowa Scenic Byways Passport Program rolled out on January 5th. Our Byway office in Ames is one of the stops and people are visiting us and picking up our free travel information. It’s great to see travelers out enjoying Iowa, even in the winter months. Go to Iowa Scenic Byway Passport (traveliowa.com) and join the nearly 2,500 that have already entered the program. By checking into each new location on your cell phone, you are entered into a drawing for a gift basket worth hundreds of dollars from one of the Byways. Our gift basket month is April.


And why April, you ask? Well, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway turns 15-years old on March 31st so we will spend the month of April celebrating our birthday. We hope to know by then if we are selected to be a National Scenic Byway and then we’ll have even more to celebrate.


Speaking of celebrations, we are planning unveiling ceremonies for all of our newly installed interpretive panels. Two panels are completed and waiting for spring to arrive and installation to occur. They are at Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine and the Missouri and Mississippi Divide pull-off near Arcadia. Four more are in the design phase. 1. Yellow Smoke Park near Denison about the Bowstring Bridge, 2. Eureka Bridge near Jefferson, 3. Marshall County Courthouse in Marshalltown, and 4. Woodbine about their town and brick streets. We are waiting to hear on funding for a 4-panel installation in Clinton. We should know by May and get those designed and installed as well.

Mary Preston and her husband, Garry Hevalow, accepting the interpretive panel for Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine. Installation will be Spring 2021.


We’d like to thank the Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving program, Humanities Iowa, Burke Heritage Fund, Woodbine Main Street, Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce Tourism, and Rotary Club of Denison for their grants and donations towards this project.


The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway is rolling with COVID-19 and its challenges. We are promoting locations that allow for social distancing and zero touch-points. Go to our webpage and under “Take a Road Trip” http://Take a Road Trip! – Prairie Rivers of Iowa (prrcd.org) you will find our brochures to help plan your trip across Iowa on the Lincoln Highway. We have an Info Guide (an overall brochure of things to see and do), Recreational and Camping brochure, Junior Explorer booklet (for kids), 1919 Army Convoy brochure, and our most recent- Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in Eastern Iowa. Whatever your interest, you should find something either educational, entertaining, or relaxing on the Lincoln Highway. We’ll see you on the Byway!

When planning a trip along the Lincoln Highway, use our brochures as guides.
The Junior Explorer booklet has games for kids to play in the car.


Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries Oh My!

Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries Oh My!

What do you do during a pandemic? And while you’re at it, throw in a derecho too! Well, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway created two videos and a brochure about Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in Eastern Iowa along the Lincoln Highway. It was a fun, challenging, and in the end – a very rewarding experience.

View of the Mississippi River from the deck at Wide River Winery north of Clinton.
Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery entrance at Swisher, Iowa.

Getting Started

Notification of partial funding for the Lincoln Highway project came from Iowa Tourism in November 2019 and we spent the winter months contacting and working with the four supporting businesses who are featured in the videos. Spring and the start of the growing season would work best for filming and then BOOM! Mid-March came with a pandemic and everything came to a screeching halt. Breweries, distilleries, and wineries were ordered closed and everyone was told to stay home. If you went out in public, you were asked to wear a mask. Schools and universities closed or went on-line. Oh, no! We were working with the University of Iowa’s Cinematic Arts Department and the Office of Outreach and Engagement and were counting on graduate students to do the filming and editing. Putting the videos on a temporary hold, we turned our attention to the accompanying tri-fold brochure that we hoped to debut at the Byways booth at the Iowa State Fair. Well, you all know how that went with the fair…… At times, we wondered if this project would ever get off the ground, but it did!

Work Gets Underway

Trevon Coleman, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduate student at the U of I, and Philip Rabalais, a recent MFA graduate, agreed to do the filming and editing. During mid-to-late summer, some restrictions were lifted allowing for partial business openings. We had the opportunity to film and we jumped at it. For safety precautions, we were masked the entire time. Patrons at the establishments wore masks except for when they were eating or drinking. At times it felt very surreal. But people were looking for a safe escape from their homes. One couple from Illinois rode a motorcycle down the Iowa side of the river to celebrate the wife’s birthday and stopped at the Mississippi River Distilling Company. Wide River Winery had two RV’ers stop in. One is featured in the film. She is from Virginia, retired, and decided to rent out her house and take off across America. She hasn’t been home for over a year.

Trevon Coleman interviewing Jeff Quint at Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery in Swisher. Philip Rabalais on the floor working the sound equipment.
Trevon Coleman (foreground) and Philip Rabalais, U of I graduate students, prepare their equipment at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City.


Most patrons were willing to share their experiences. At Cedar Ridge, 4-5 groups were enjoying the spacious outdoor seating. Big Grove Brewery just added to their outdoor seating and it was being put to good use as well. Many people were tired of being at home and as long as they could travel at their own speed and social distance, they were having a great time. As said in one of the films, people need to “get off the couch and into the car.”


The four locations: Mississippi River Distilling Company (LeClaire), Wide River Winery (Clinton), Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery (Swisher), and Big Grove Brewery (Iowa City) all were very accommodating and these videos show the owners’ passion for their business and products. Doing our part, we did taste test a few brews, spirits, and wines and brought some back to share with others…. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

Garrett Burchett moving newly delivered empty barrels to make room for the film shoot at the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire.

That’s a Wrap

Even throwing a derecho at us in August, did not deter Trevon and Philip from completing the filming. Once power was restored and businesses were open again, they forged on. We are so excited to share the end product with the public and we will see you on the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway as you patronize these 4 locations and the others in eastern Iowa. And have fun. “There’s always got to be fun!”

Big Grove created a’ “Beer Interrupted” named for the derecho hitting and a power outage interrupting the brew process. Big Grove leaves no brew behind so the hazy DIPA was aggressively hopped with El Dorado and Lotus.

The uploaded videos can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV4zTBb73nM&t=9s (Big Grove- Cedar Ridge) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skoaBsqtbn0 (Mississippi River-Wide River).

Also available is the accompanying brochure about the history of breweries, distilleries, and wineries in Iowa and a map of their locations in eastern Iowa. Please find it on our Byway page at https://www.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ILHA-Brochure-2.pdf