Freedom Rock Tour and a Liberty Rock on the Lincoln Highway and the Iowa Valley Byways

Freedom Rock Tour and a Liberty Rock on the Lincoln Highway and the Iowa Valley Byways

Freedom Rock in Boone along the Lincoln Highway

Hello byway travelers!

I am writing today from the National Lincoln Highway Association’s Annual Conference in Elkhart, Indiana! Since I am here all week I thought that I would share with you the feature that I submitted for the Iowa Byways monthly newsletter. If you would like to learn more about Iowa’s other byways be sure to sign up for the newsletter at: https://iowadot.gov/iowasbyways

It seems fitting that as we get ready to celebrate America’s Independence Day that we should celebrate the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway. The Iowa byway gained National Scenic Byway status in 2021 for the historical significance to our country as the first planned transcontinental highway across the United States.

On July 1, 1913 Carl Fisher’s coast-to-coast rock highway was officially named the Lincoln Highway after the 16th President of the United  States, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Highway Association was officially incorporated and tasked with promoting the Lincoln Highway to local governments and the public. It was no coincidence that Lincoln, a martyr for freedom, was chosen by Henry Joy (the association’s first president) to represent the roadway. Lincoln was a martyr of freedom and the idea of having an improved road across the country that anyone could use to move about freely was the goal. The road soon became known as the “Main Street Across America” and an avenue to a new life for many. 

The Lincoln Highway has another significant date in July and that is July 7, 1919 when the first of its kind Transcontinental Motor Convoy left Washington DC to meet up with the Lincoln Highway in Gettysburg and traverse the route. There were 81 military vehicles, 37 officers, and 258 enlisted men who began the trip. Not all of them made it the distance. The Convoy traveled through a muddy Iowa from July 22- July 28th. Read more on the Transcontinental Motor Convoy

Many of the 43 communities across Iowa’s Lincoln Highway choose the fourth of July as their community’s annual town celebration. Belle Plaine has held a July 4th celebration for many years and good ol’ George Preston would even pull his two-headed pig in the parade. Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Highway Nitty Gritty has about the best name out there and highlights history through antique displays and shopping in the streets and local businesses. The larger towns of Clinton, Council Bluffs (at the historic General Dodge House), and Ames have annual celebrations as do some of the smaller towns like Logan. But the town that wants to really own the fourth of July is Marshalltown, the location of Iowa’s Veteran’s Home which also happens to be one of the largest Veteran’s Homes in the country. 

All this talk of freedom and veterans brings us to the topic of this month’s newsletter, Iowa’s Freedom Rocks. The first Iowa Freedom Rock was painted in Adair County in 1999. Artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II wanted to give veterans unique recognition on Memorial Day.  Eventually Bubba began a Freedom Rock Tour, where his goal was to paint a Freedom Rock in every county honoring the history and veterans who had connections to the county. Bubba has even started a 50 State Freedom Rock Tour. There is now a Freedom Rock in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties, a 100th one in Altoona, and a Liberty Rock in the Lincoln Highway community of Glidden.  Read more about this special rock, Freedom Rocks along the byways and other byway events in the July newsletter!

Safe Travels!

Iowa’s Scenic Byway Coordinators

Greene County Freedom Rock
Carroll County Freedom Rock
Boone County Freedom Rock

The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway traverses through 13 Iowa counties.  Of those 13 counties, five of the communities are home to their counties’ Freedom Rock but there is another rock that is on the Lincoln Highway that is not a Freedom Rock. It is the Glidden Liberty Rock. The Carroll County Freedom Rock was complete when the community of Glidden approached Bubba wanting their own rock. The fact that Glidden has ties to the beginning of WWI and the end of WWII inspired the artist to say yes. The Glidden Liberty Rock portrays Merle Hay, the first Iowan and one of the first three Americans killed in WWI, the “Enola Gay” plane that dropped the bomb to end WWII, injured veteran Ralph Neppel, and a Vietnam Vet Donald Sparks, MIA.

Liberty Rock in Glidden on the Lincoln Highway
Glidden Liberty Rock

The Lincoln Highway Freedom Rock Tour also includes: Clinton County (Clinton), Cedar CountyLinn County (the 99th rock completed), Benton County, Tama County (features Meskwaki Code Talkers), Marshall County (Marshalltown), Story County, Boone County (Boone) , Greene County (Jefferson), Crawford County , Harrison County (Lincoln Highway/Loess Hills Interpretive Center), and Pottawattamie County (Lewis & Clark Trail).

 

Story County Freedom Rock
Story County Freedom Rock
Tama County Freedom Rock
Tama County Freedom Rock from road
Linn County Freedom Rock

Located in the Gateway Park & Preserve in Marengo, the Iowa County Freedom Rock is protected beneath a lighted pavilion.  One side of the rock features Marengo born Marine Sgt. Major Bradley Kasal. Kasal was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic action during a firefight in which he was severely injured during Operation Phantom Fury in the Gulf War. Williamsburg native, Eugene Ely, an aviation pioneer who was credited with the first shipboard aircraft take-off and landing is featured beneath the American flag. Army Air Force veteran Dr Burns Byram is also featured on the rock. Byram would fly his restored military plane, “Tangerine” low over the town of Marengo to announce that the doctor had arrived. Other Iowa Valley Scenic Byway counties include the Benton County Freedom Rock which features Army, Navy, and Air Corps heroes and the Tama County Freedom Rock which features the Meskwaki Code Talkers.

Benton County Freedom Rock
Benton County Freedom Rock
Cedar County Freedom Rock
Cedar County Freedom Rock
Clinton County Freedom Rock
Clinton County Freedom Rock
Clinton County Freedom Rock

I hope you have enjoyed this Lincoln Highway and Iowa Valley Freedom Rock Tour. Have a wonderful July and I will see you on the byway!!

Where Was I on the byway? Part 1

Where Was I on the byway? Part 1

Where Was I Hot beef sandwich

“Where Was I on they byway?” began as a post on our Facebook page that was telling people, “Hey look what famous Lincoln Highway Café is open again!” Since I began work as the byway coordinator for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, there was speculation as to whether or not the beloved Cronk’s Café in Denison was gone forever or if the new owners would save the tradition. I had seen the Cronk’s sign lit up on a previous trip, but the restaurant wasn’t open. On this trip it was open and what better way to announce to our followers than with a good old fashioned hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy (or pork in this case)? The post was very popular, most people knew where I was and they were just as excited as I was that Cronk’s would live on in the form of Cronk’s Café American and Mexican Restaurant.

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Cronk's Cafe postcard
cronks cafe
cronks party room
cronk's cafe sign
American and Mexican
Cronks inside
Wheatland Calamus bridge

This Facebook post of the bridge and asking, “Where am I on the byway,” was an impulsive live post as I was doing sign inventory on the byway. Bridges on the byway are so beautiful in whatever form or shape they are in, and people love them!  Everyone knew that I was at the Wapsi Bridges between Calamus and Wheatland.  I learned from followers that the bridges had been closed since the 1990s and that there were holes in the steel underneath that were big enough for a person to get through.  The bridges here are actually a series of three bridges. Funding is secured for the replacement of the middle bridge (with a wider decking) and the county is currently seeking funding for the western-most bridge.  A Pony Truss bridge is at the eastern side of the section of roadway and will not be restored as a roadway. It will be wonderful to open this stretch of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to drivers again! I also learned that there was an amusement park here!!

Wheatland Calamus bridge over Wapsi River
wheatland calamus bridge Wapsi River
Pony-tress bridge over the wheatland calamus bridge
Where Was I on the byway?

 

Where was I on the byway that I saw this guy?

I had gotten a kick out of this guy when I toured this museum. Our friend had his dental work (yes, real teeth) done in a historical dentist chair at one of the many buildings on site. A 1928 Lincoln Highway marker is at its original location here tucked near a lilac shrub. There are many buildings to check out from the 1800s, hiking trails, a video presentation, a gift shop, and a weekly farmer’s market from May to October. The highlight is at the top of the hill where you can stand on the ridge by the Lincoln Highway metal railing and take a selfie viewing the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Western Skies Scenic Byway, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway and the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway!

So where was I?                                       

I was at the Harrison County Iowa Welcome Center and Historical Museum!

Harrison County Iowa Welcome Center
Harrison county welcome center museum display
Welcome Center gas station picnic area
Harrison County Welcome Center Lincoln Highway bridge model
Welcome Center Selfie Station on Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway National Scenic Byway
Where was I on the byway?

This post was the first regular Wednesday, “Where Was I on the byway?” Alas, our followers did know exactly where I was!! : Answer to yesterday’s “Where Was I on the byway?” is atop the hill ridge between Ogden and Boone in the Des Moines River Valley. Seven Oaks Recreation – Boone IA is located on the same ridge about a 1/2 mile south on Hwy 30.  (photo credit of Seven Oaks goes to Jeff Robak posting in I grew up in Iowa!). 

Seven Oaks
Where was I on the byway?

This post was one of my favorites although highly controversial in the Lincoln Highway world. I thought it was incredibly interesting and educational and hopefully I opened some minds.

Here is the post:  I am always checking the Lincoln Highway Association map to see where any concrete Lincoln Highway markers are. I had to do some searching to find these two, but I found them! Where was I? 

The comments were of surprise (the surprise emoji) and shock and I quickly learned why. I will answer the “Where Was I?” first. 

 

Wednesday’s Where Was I on the byway? …was Carlyle Memorials in Denison, IA.

The three original concrete Lincoln Highway markers lay on the ground on the west side of the building and according to the National Lincoln Highway Association map, at one time served as a wheel block for parking. This unique use for the damaged markers does allow for a good study in how they were constructed. You can see that the colors were all created separately and laid in the posts.  This also shows us that the color is IN the concrete.  If you have an original marker on your property, do not use paint to touch it up.  A good power-wash is all that is needed to refresh it!  

I also learned from followers that the 1913 cornerstone was from the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church/School from Denison. Carlyle Memorials is storing it for them as they have often done for other Denison residents. 

 

Wanted Lincoln Highway markers

I may be frowned upon by some in the Lincoln Highway Association for my opinion, but I say to, “Value what you have as you have it.”  In 1928 there were 2,436 markers installed by the Boy Scouts at approximately 1 mile apart. As time continues to pass many of the markers have been lost and rarely can you find one in the original location. The markers at Carlyle Memorials could have ended up buried in the ground on a farmer’s land somewhere or (more likely) in a DOT’s dumpsite. They aren’t missing. They are right there for you to discover (with the owner’s permission) where you can see how they were made to last 104 years along a highway.  I would like to add that the owners are 3rd generation small business owners and completely respect and honor their history and the history of the Lincoln Highway.  

 

 With that, I will end this blogpost. I am enjoying the “Where Was I on the byway?” postings and learning from you, the readers. I hope to give you a fairly accurate count of how many 1928 markers that Iowa still has in the coming year (it is over 30). Keep following me and I will see you on the byway!

Where Was I on the Byway sign over the Iowa Byways Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway logo
Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

The Meyer’s Farmstead Historic District is located one block north of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Lisbon. The Farm District is part of the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. It is a two block walk from Lincoln Square Park which is located in the heart of the Lisbon Main Street Historic District. The Farmstead, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, and the Main Street Historic District are all nationally recognized as significant to the history of development in America.  Iowa’s travel industry is focusing on Agritourism in 2024.  It is more important than ever to realize the value of our history, our stories, and how they are being told.

Google maps with Meyers Farmstead Historic District, the Lincoln Highway, and Lisbon Main St Historic District

15.33 acres of the Meyer farm was sold to the City of Lisbon for the development of a park in 2019. For the next six years the City of Lisbon, the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC), and the Lisbon Parks and Recreation have been developing the Heritage Area. From a catch-and-release pond to tours of the farmstead, the plan is in motion. 

Lincoln Square Park Lisbon Main St Historic District
The fence post, water trough, and 3 historic barns are significant to the historic property.
Meyers Farm Historic District barn

A top priority for the Preservation Commission was to get the Meyers Farmstead listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The farmstead collective was deemed significant for important agricultural trends of livestock and dairy farming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was listed in 2021. The agricultural buildings are significant as they represent the rarity of buildings still existing from that time period. They are also significant representives of adaptive uses as the industry changed (NRHP listing for Meyers Farmstead).

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Preservation Commission was now looking for help and partners. In August of 2023, the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park including the Meyers Farmstead Historic District was named an emerging site with the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA). The SSNHA is an organization under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The SSNHA’s mission is “to preserve and tell the story of American agriculture and its global significance.” They connect partners and resources with the goal of creating a consistent professional preservation and interpretation standard. This was exactly what the Preservation Commission needed.

Silos & smokestacks

The plan for the natural landscape at the Heritage Park progressed quickly when a REAP grant was awarded last November.  The grant will be used to reconstruct 10 acres of diverse tallgrass prairie. The prairie will contribute to the farm’s story from prairie to farm. It will also improve water quality and wildlife habitat. The planting is scheduled for May 2024. 

Finally, in November of last year, the The Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun reported that the Lisbon City Council approved a contract between the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) and the City of Lisbon with OPN Architects. The contract is to prepare a preservation plan for the barns in the Historic District.  Rebecca Hess from LHPC described perfectly what the barns had endured, “The two barns and corncrib/hog house survived the tornado of 1908, the derecho of 2020, and the F2 tornado of 2023. Our goal is to ensure their structural integrity in order to preserve them for future generations.” Under the preservation plan, each of the three historic barns would have its own plan for rehabilitation created by professionals in historic preservation following historic preservation standards. Progress for the development of the park was coming together. 

2020 derecho winds
Meyers Farmstead Historic District inside damaged barn

Fast forward to mid-March of this year. The City of Lisbon and the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) were told by the city’s insurance company to demolish two of the barns and fence the third one.  The barns would no longer be covered for liability by the insurance company. No one disputes that the barns should be fenced off from public access until they can be fully rehabilitated.  If the barns are demolished, the Meyers Farmstead Historic District will lose the designation of National Historic Register status, the Silos & Smokestacks support, and the means to receive any grants to help rehabilitate any of the barns. This would be a huge setback for the development of the Heritage Park. 

Marc Mohn from the Preservation Commission sums up the current status of the Historic District on their Facebook page: “The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) is working closely with the City of Lisbon to find a solution for the insurance issues presented by the barns at the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. The commission is meeting with city officials and contractors to gather and communicate information to stakeholders in a tireless effort to preserve and protect these unique structures, along with the history and character they bring to our community. Our goal has always been and will continue to be the preservation of Lisbon History to draw visitors, revenue, and strengthen the community’s sense of identity and place.”

Meyers Farm Historic District barn

The City Council meets on May 13 to decide the fate of these barns. The location of the Meyer Farmstead Historic District along the Historic Lincoln Highway and blocks from the Lisbon Main St Historic District is ideal for telling the Agritourism story. The story will be incomplete without them. If you would like to voice your support for rehabilitation of the three nationally significant barns in Lisbon you can email the mayor and city council members directly.  You can also plan on attending the May 13 Council meeting at Lisbon City Hall. You can comment here as well.

Thank you to The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission for the photos and information, to the “Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun” for their responsive reporting on preservation efforts, to the Silos & Smokestacks organization for their support and logo use, and to all of those who support the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway and Agricultural Heritage locally, regionally, or nationally. –See you on the byway!

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.