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
Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridges

Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridges

During our April meeting while discussing the bridge in Tama, we had a conversation about James Marsh and his Rainbow Arch Bridge designs along the Lincoln Highway. So I reached out to our resident experts, Bob and Joyce Ausberger for a history lesson on these bridges and their significance to the Lincoln Highway.

James Marsh was the builder and promoter of several Rainbow Arch Bridges. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His company was N.E. Marsh & Son Construction Company in Des Moines. The bridge designs were formed by the conjunction of new technology, and reinforced concrete. The previous stone bridges were more expensive and labor-intensive.

By 1893 Marsh had constructed numerous bridges in Iowa – a three-mile elevated railroad structure in Sioux City and three bridges in Des Moines. Similar bridges were built in Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and five other western states.

James Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge Design

Patent Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Beaver Creek Bridge on the Border of Greene and Boone Counties in Iowa

Photo credit: bubbasgarage.com

The Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge (known as Beaver Creek Bridge) is located on the Lincoln Highway on the border of Greene and Boone County in Ogden at 210th Street and was built in 1919. This bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Beaver Creek Bridge

Photo credit: Garry Gardner/wikipedia.org

Photo credit: John Zeller/Iowa DOT

Numerous single-span concrete arches can be found in rural Iowa, but multiple-span examples are rare. Moreover, among those concrete arches remaining in the state, the Eureka Mill Bridge is one of the earliest such arch structures designed by the state highway commission. We are fortunate to have these existing samples of these two types of bridges still remaining

This article was reprinted with permission from the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association Summer 2022 Newsletter, Volume 27, No, 2.

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

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

The Strength and Power of Public Support

Public support can do wonderful things and we are witnessing its strength during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing people come together as seamstresses make masks, distilleries make hand sanitizers, and manufacturers retool to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Social distancing, no large groups, and wearing masks are our new “normal.” Hopefully there will be a vaccine soon to eradicate this virus.

Re-reading the Winter edition of The Lincoln Highway Forum https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/forum/, our attention was drawn to an article written in 1914 by Henry B. Joy, President of the Lincoln Highway Association. He talks about public support for the Lincoln Highway and commented that the Highway helped spur the improved road movement for two reasons: 1) It was a definite accomplishment with a “real, tangible goal towards which to work as well as crystallizing scattered efforts.” 2) It was a monumental tribute to “our martyred president.”

The 3,400 miles of road was in need of improvements and Carl Fisher, the idea man behind the Lincoln Highway,  had an initial cost estimate of $10,000,000. He and the Association began fundraising efforts. Initial funds of $300,000 come from a variety of sources including the President of the United States, state governors, US Senators and Representatives, large industrial organizations. and high dignitaries of many religious denominations. Among the most heartwarming donations were bags of pennies, nickles, and dimes from the school children in a small Nebraska town and seven cents from children in an Alaskan school.

Henry B. Joy in the official LHA Packard, in 1915 stuck in the “gumbo” near LaMoille, Iowa.

The Association appointed state, county, and local consuls (representatives) representing the “highest class of citizens in every community- bankers, clergymen and business men of all kinds”- to organize the Association on a local level as they raised funds, exerted political influence, and gave their time, energy, and money freely to carry out the work. The Association office then turned its attention to promotion as it felt this network was strong enough to encourage the necessary improvements on a local level.

We see these local efforts when, in 1915, the Tama community pooled their money to create a unique bridge with side panels that spell out “LINCOLN HIGHWAY”. In 2018-2019, they once again helped out by supplementing restoration funds for the same bridge. 

This is what Americans do. See a need and fill it. We give our time, talents, and money. We build roads. We make masks and donate them. We get groceries for someone at risk or in quarantine. We care for the sick. We rush into buildings to save lives. We will get through this COVID-19 pandemic and come out the other side as a more compassionate and cohesive nation and when we do, we will travel the Lincoln Highway- the road America built.