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.

Update on Status of the Bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa

Update on Status of the Bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa

The bridge over Mud Creek in Tama, Iowa, will be preserved in its current location, in a decision made at the March 21 Tama City Council meeting. City Council member Ann Michael, who had been pushing to repair the bridge, said after the meeting, “It took the work of all of us to preserve this historic little bridge.”

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and considered one of the most visited sites along the Lincoln Highway nationally, the Tama Bridge has been cited for repair since 2016. 

Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, Iowa

With the assistance of Prairie Rivers of Iowa, nearly $100 thousand dollars have been raised for that purpose which, along with funding from the Iowa Department of Transportation would have paid for the repairs, but various administrative issues have delayed the project.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard at Tama City Council

PRI Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard speaking in support of the historic Lincoln Highway Bridge to Tama City Council. KCRG Photo

Earlier this year, the Tama City Council began to consider moving the bridge and replacing it with a culvert, sparking a nationwide campaign to contact the Council or attend City Council meetings and ask them to save the bridge and repair it in place.

To gain a full understanding of the options, Tama city staff called a meeting with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) that included representatives from the Iowa Department of Transportation, City of Tama, the structural engineering firm Shuck-Britson, Prairie Rivers of Iowa, and the Lincoln Highway Association. SHPO indicated that moving the bridge without prior approval would cause it to be de-listed from the National Register.

A process to gain such pre-approval could take two years, with no guarantees of re-listing. Additionally, the project engineer cast doubt on the feasibility of moving the concrete structure and maintaining its structural integrity. With this information, and the prodigious input from people across the country, the Tama City Council decided to let bids for repair through the Iowa DOT. City Council members said they were surprised by the amount of interest and the passion for bridge’s preservation from so many people across the country.

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.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Monarch on a Swamp Milkweed by Carl Kurtz

There are signs of spring 2020 along the Lincoln Highway! In some places, snow has melted away and some flowers are busting through the soil. That means spring is just around the corner. Home and Garden Shows are being held in many communities across Iowa. Also Camping and Boating shows! These types of events get people excited for warmer weather and for the eventual summer.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping Guide

  Also check our our Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping brochure for ideas of where you can go along our route and enjoy the outdoors.  https://old.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/10-18.UPD-Camp26RecBrochure.pdf What preparations are you making for spring? Cleaning closets? Raking the yard? Perusing garden catalogs and magazines? Getting your fishing gear ready? We all know that Thursday, March 19th is the first official day of spring, but, as Iowans, we know it can still snow in April and be chilly in May. What can we do in preparation in the meantime for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to get ready for spring? We know the Department of Transportation is tasked with handling the physical road repairs, but what can we do as a group or as an individual for the Byway? On my way to work today, I noticed some trash along the ditches and medians. Does your section of road have groups that participate in Adopt-A-Highway? If not, do you know of a group that could? Now I am not suggesting that you go into the median of a busy highway yourself to pick up trash without proper training or a safety vest, but if you are a landowner perhaps cleaning up your own ditch makes sense. (I know most do already.) If you live in the city, as I do now, ask your city how you can be part of a city-wide cleanup day. Perhaps there is a group that spruces up the entrance to your town to make it more inviting, not only for visitors, but for residents. This makes an impact on all and increases community pride. Some communities do a “swap” where leaders in one community go to another to view the community through “new eyes” as to what works well and what could be improved. Then leaders from that community go to the other and do the same type of review. Sometimes we don’t even notice things in our own back yard as we are accustomed to them. The official Iowa Byways sign for the Lincoln Highway Heritage BywayAre there buildings that could do with a fresh coat of paint? Every year Paint Iowa Beautiful offers, through a grant application process, a chance to obtain paint through their program. (Sorry the 2020 deadline has passed, but please remember this for next year.)

One of my spring goals is to finish the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway signage inventory. I know there are signs in 2 counties and 2 communities that I need to address. It’s been an on-going process for several years now. (There are 1200 signs across the state to monitor!)

Also on my list of to-do’s are to continue supporting attractions that are in need of restoration. Preston’s Station, Quirks’ Cabins, and a gas station in Montour are among the priorities. We are also planning several interpretive installations across the state that will increase education and promotion of the road.

Preston’s Station Historic District in Belle Plaine, Iowa taken by Mike Kelly

Let us know what spring events you have in the works and how we can help you promote them.