During Black History Month we pay tribute to a sometimes overlooked, yet highly significant, piece of African American history that took place along the Lincoln Highway in Ames, Iowa.
Iowa State College founded in 1858 (now Iowa State University) allowed students of color to attend. But up until the 1940s, they did not have access to on-campus housing unless they roomed together. This “unofficial” policy made student housing nearly impossible due to the low number of students of color enrolled during this time. Meanwhile, two caring individuals, Archie and Nancy Martin opened their home in Ames as a place for male students of color to reside and grow while pursuing their college education. Female students of color were welcomed into the nearby home of John and Nellie Shipp at 118 Sherman Avenue. The Shipp’s daughter Mildred married Hubert Crouch, a student who stayed at the Martin home. Crouch later became the first African American awarded a doctorate in biological sciences at Iowa State University.
The Martin home provided comfort to a small but growing community of Black students, roomers, and visitors including the agricultural scientist, inventor, and first Black student to graduate from Iowa State Agricultural College – George Washington Carver.
Like Carver, the Martins were born into slavery. Nancy migrated north at the age of 60 after impressing Drs. Davis and Jennie Ghrist of Ames with her talent for preparing delicious southern-cooked meals. She took a job cooking for the Ghrists and at a fraternity house on campus. Archie soon joined her in 1914 and began working for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.
A portrait of Nancy and Archie Martin hangs in ISU Martin Hall in their honor.
From the late 1920s through the early 50s, the Martin household gained a reputation as caring, generous, and supportive of those seeking to better themselves through higher education. Finally, it became apparent to the Martins that they could no longer house all the students of color in need. According to family tradition, Archie used his enthusiasm as a proponent of equal treatment of Black students to discuss the issue with then Iowa State College President (1912-1926) Raymond A. Pearson which eventually resulted in the ability for students of color to reside in campus housing.
For over a century, the Martin-Shipp families have retained ownership of the home. It still stands along the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway in Iowa. Archie and three of his sons built the six-bedroom, two-bath Craftsman-style bungalow at 218 Lincoln Way sometime around 1919. The home was granted historical landmark status by the City of Ames in 2008. A letter of preliminary eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places was obtained from the State Historic Preservation Office in 2021.
According to former Ames councilperson and Ames Historic Museum Martin House Chair Sharon Wirth, the Martins’ history is important to the Ames community and Iowa State.
The historic home (circa 1920) where Nancy and Archie Martin housed Black students attending Iowa State College. Photo credit: Ames History Museum, Courtesy of the Martin Family.
“Their home symbolizes the family’s legacy,” said Wirth, “This property is an outstanding cultural resource located on the Lincoln Highway and should be preserved. Few resources remain that are tied directly to the early lives of African Americans in Ames. This period of ownership by a Black family is nearly unheard of.”
Besides Carver, other notable guests at the Martin home include Iowa State College African American athlete Jack Trice who tragically died as a result of injuries he sustained during the second play of his second college football game. Additional guests at the Martin home included James Bowman who served with the Tuskegee Airmen and as a Des Moines school administrator, and Samuel Massie who worked on the Manhattan Project and became the first black professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
In the words of the Martin Legacy Foundation, “The Martins impact on black students in Ames and on the Iowa State campus can be measured in numerous ways. Mainly their legacy is traced by the successful stories of many who stayed with them. There are numerous educators, professors, administrators, presidents of universities, and engineers that fondly remember the Martin home and acknowledge that, if not for the Martins, they would not have had the chance at an education at Iowa State University. Nancy and Archie knew and believed that an education was the only way for African Americans (to achieve an improved) quality of life. They were wholeheartedly dedicated to supporting African American students in their quest for a (higher) education. Their legacy lives on in the achievements of those students and also through their descendants who are doctors, lawyers, decorated military officers, and educators. An amazing legacy for two ex-slaves.”
In honor of the Martins, the Iowa Board of Regents approved renaming Iowa State University Suite 2 residence hall in the Union Drive neighborhood to Archie and Nancy Martin Hall. Additionally, the Martins and their home are commemorated with a brick pier at 5th Street and Burnett Avenue in Downtown Ames.
Archie and Nancy Martin outside their home during the 1940’s. Photo credit: Ames History Museum, Courtesy of the Martin Family.
Martin House as it is Today on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway
Martin House Historical Plaque
Archie and Nancy Martin -Ames History Museum Photo Courtesy of the Martin Family
Archie and Nancy Martin’s Daughter and Son-In-Law, Nellie and John Shipp Family -Farwell T. Brown Photo Archive-Ames Public Library Photo
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.
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 email@example.com.
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!
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.
Currently, display is being prepared to move to a new location. Please check back for new details.
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.
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 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.
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.
Patent Photo credit: wikipedia.org
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.
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
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.
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.
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!