I live just off the Lincoln Highway Byway and travel on it daily. But how well do I know this important piece of history?
There was this new invention- the automobile- being produced and auto makers really wanted to sell their inventions. They needed roads for traveling and thought it would be pretty neat for cars to travel east and west across the entire nation. The Lincoln Highway began in 1913 as an assortment of existing wagon roads, turnpikes, and trails. The road started in Times Square in New York and ended in San Francisco, California.
The Iowa portion was dictated in part by how to cross two rivers- the Missouri on the west and the Mighty Mississippi on the east. Good bridges were identified in Clinton and Council Bluffs and “good roads” were sought to connect these two points. This often proved to be a challenge, because much of Iowa was boggy, spongy soil and roads often turned to mud. Iowa has many creeks and rivers to cross. But roads did exist as farmers needed to not only get supplies to their farms but their produce to market. These farm to market roads often led to railroad stations.
The original national plan for the Lincoln Highway was to create a “seedling” mile in each state. A mile stretch would be paved to show citizens and travelers how traveling could be improved with paved roads. Iowa’s “seedling” mile is just east of Cedar Rapids. Greene County also applied for federal aid to pave 6 1/2 miles extending equal distances from the county seat of Jefferson. These were the only paved portions in Iowa until 1924. As neighboring roads were improved, the alignment (route) changed. Maybe a mile or two north or south was in better shape or a better bridge was built. In 1920, a red, white, and blue band was painted on poles, fence posts, and rocks to show the traveler which way to go. On September 1, 1928, Boy Scout troops installed 3,000 concrete markers with bronze medallions at planned locations about one mile apart. Many of these markers no longer exist due to road construction, theft, and vandalism.
As Lincoln Highway travelers increased, many gas stations, eateries, and motels sprung up. It winds through many Main Streets. In a display I saw a long time ago, The Lincoln Highway was attributed to the birth of the family vacation.
Today, The Lincoln Highway today travels through 13 states. In Iowa, it travels through 13 counties. It crisscrosses Highway 30- the “new” road that mirrors the Lincoln Highway for the most part, but Highway 30 avoids many of the main streets that the Lincoln Highway connected. It is used for those interested in efficient travel time. I do use this road too. But for the most part, I like my “old” road, It has been designated a State of Iowa Byway- The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway- and has great things happening across the state. I hope to share more about this great road in the future and as you travel it- look for the red, white, and blue signs with the big “L” on the white background. Travel it. Enjoy it. Be a part of history!