Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway – IA
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- LocationIA, IL, NE
- Length460 of 1089 total miles
The Lincoln Highway was the first improved transcontinental road in the nation, traveling from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, California. The route travels through 13 states and is a National Scenic Byway in the states of Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. In western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana it is a state byway. The route continues today in New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California but is not a named byway.
Carl Fisher, the owner of the Prest-o-lite (headlight) Company envisioned a “Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway.” As he sold almost all the headlights required by Detroit’s automakers, he was well-connected and presented his idea at a dinner party in 1912. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was formed to designate the route across the nation, fundraise, and promote the road. Falling short of funds to pave the entire route, “seedling” miles in each state were poured to show what a good road would look like in hopes that the LHA’s grass-roots organization would lead to local efforts for improvements.
The road was named as a memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, as the memorial in Washington, D.C. had not yet been built. This historic road allowed Americans and visitors to see the country as never before. It has been said that this road created the family vacation!
Story of the Byway
The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway travels from Clinton, Iowa, along the Mississippi River to Council Bluffs, along the Missouri River. It is the Iowa section of the first improved transcontinental road that begins in Times Square in New York City and ends in Lincoln Park in San Francisco, California. It was the idea of Carl Fisher's, a headlight manufacturer. Fisher called upon Detroit automakers to help form the Lincoln Highway Association, and they designated the route in 1913 using a combination of paved city streets, gravel roads, dirt roads, wagon trails, and Native American paths. Paving of the road was done over time, and some sections (including many loops of the byway) are still gravel. The original route is drivable in Iowa today and is marked as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway. Traveling across the state, you will notice the rows of corn and soybean fields. It is hard to imagine that 80 % of Iowa was once covered by prairie plants, some as high as 10 feet tall and some roots just as deep. Early settlers changed the landscape and added farm-to-market roads. Iowa was a leader in bridge building, and the Lincoln Highway crosses many rivers and streams. There are many state and county parks along the route as well as museums to tell the history of early settlers and the cultures they brought with them. You will see communities embracing their heritage, among them Mormon, Quaker, Catholic, Czech, and German. Of course, there are many transportation-related sites to experience as well- cafes still in operation, cabins and motels still in operation, as well as gas stations that have been restored as museums or repurposed. The route connects 43 communities spaced about 10 minutes apart with food, fuel, lodging, restrooms always accessible.
The Iowa section of the Lincoln Highway travels from Clinton on the east side of the state and travels west across the whole state to Council Bluffs, connecting 43 communites in 13 counties. Most of the route is in rural Iowa, but it also travels through urban areas including the second largest city in Iowa, Cedar Rapids. Iowa DOT signs have been installed to show the traveler where to turn and confirmation signs are installed every 2 miles in the rural areas. There are many old gas stations, cafes, cabins, and examples of early transportation structures along the way- some are stil operating and some have been restored and repurposed.
Points of Interest
The Sawmill Museum, Clinton
Attraction exploring the American lumber & forestry industries, with a vintage sawmill.
National Czech & Slovak Museum, Cedar Rapids
Galleries showcasing the Czech & Slovak experience plus genealogy library, Christmas market & more.
Youngville Cafe, Watkins
Youngville Cafe and Visitor Center welcomes Lincoln Highway Travelers and local visitors. Historic displays, food and beverage and special events. Restored "One Stop" station.
Preston's Station Historic District, Belle Plaine
As you drive west on the historic Lincoln Highway through Belle Plaine, you will come upon Preston’s Corner, home to the famous Preston's Station, a three-room motel and garage/roadside museum.
Reed-Niland Corner (cafe and motel), Colo
"Great Food With A Side of History" -Niland's Cafe was restored in 2003 along with the Reed Service Station. The restored Colo Motel reopened in 2008. Outside self-guided tours and information, Station open during special events, historic Jefferson and Lincoln markers on site, museum displays inside restaurant.
Lion's Club Tree Park, Grand Junction
This park is at the intersection of the new Highway 30 and the Lincoln Highway, just east of Grand Junction. There are many interprtive panels along short walking trails.
Chicago and NW Depot (restored), Carroll
Carroll's historic train depot, the Chicago at Northwestern Depot, is open to tour the renovated train depot or explore the exterior grounds.
Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center
This museum complex is straight out of the 1800s, with an original log cabin, general store, and school. The official Iowa Welcome Center provides tourism information and assistance to travelers. The Iowa Products Store offers food, beverage, clothing, crafts, and a wide variety of souvenirs.
Woodbine Brick Streets
The 3×3 Block Downtown is on the Historic Register for its Iowa Commercial Architecture. (Designated in 2012 by the National Parks Service)
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Dedicated in 1962, this library & museum features exhibits related to President Herbert Hoover.
Eagle Point Park, Clinton
Park with bluffs overlooking the river, plus a historic lodge & castle turret open for stair climbs.
Mahanay Bell Tower
You will hear the beautiful 47 bells play. The view is spectacular. With five rooftop art installations that you can only see from the enclosed observation deck, it is a unique experience for sure. The countryside is gorgeous and the view of our beautiful downtown Jefferson is spectacular. The four Ring Out for Art sculptures are in place on the courthouse plaza and there are two special alleys for you to see – Sally’s Alley on the south side of the Square and Arch Alley on the north side. Our Greene County Courthouse is outstanding to see if you can visit during the week when it is open. The Thomas Jefferson Gardens are located on the southeast corner of the Square and are simply stunning to walk through and enjoy.
Belle Plaine Area Museum
History museum of the Chicago Northwestern Railway, Lincoln Highway, local history and home of the Henry B. Tippie Annex.
Clarence Main Street
This may be the smallest Main Street community in Iowa, but their projects are large and embrace the Lincoln Highway. Check out the murals on several of the downtown buildings and be sure to see the crosswalks painted in the Lincoln Highway's red-white-and-blue with the large "L'" logo.
Thomas Jefferson Gardens of Greene County
Jefferson Matters is the name selected for the community's Main Street program. Their office is set in the Thomas Jefferson Gardens of Greene County, complete with a statue of a seated Thomas Jefferson making for a great photo op. Just down the street, to the west, is the Greene County Courthouse and a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Going east from the office is a painted sidealk depicting the Lincoln Highway route from Times Square to San Francisco.
Travel the Lincoln Highway in Iowa
Cross the Mississippi River from Illinois on either Highways 30 or 136, arriving in Clinton, Iowa. Head north on Highway 67 to the original town of Lyons, now part of Clinton. If you like scenic views, check out the Elijah Buell Terrace and the walking/biking Discovery Trail that follows the Mississippi shoreline. Stop at the Sawmill Museum and learn more about the local history and what once made Clinton home to the more millionaires than anywhere in the nation. Head back south on Highway 67 to Clinton’s downtown. If you have kids, stop at the Felix Adler Children’s Discovery Center. Follow Highway 30 to DeWitt and enjoy their Lincoln Park and their restored Hausbarn, now the Chamber of Commerce office.
Head west, see the road in Cedar County as early travelers did. If you are a history buff, drop down to West Branch to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Back on Highway 30, at Lisbon take the exit into town and then on west to Mount Vernon. Head northwest on 1st St and see Cornell College’s campus (on the National Register of Historic Places.) Mount Vernon Road was the site of the “Seedling Mile.” A “loop” of the byway will take you to Marion or continue on Mount Vernon Road as it curves into Cedar Rapids. Be sure to stop at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. Cedar Rapids has many local brew pubs, area wineries, restaurants, and chain hotels. There are many mom-and-pop diners and hotels along the way, so stop whenever you wish or pack a lunch and stop at many of the state and county parks along the way.
Leave Cedar Rapids on 10th St, then Johnson Ave, and meet up with Highway 30 once again to head west. At the intersection with Highway 218, take the new exit and stop at the Youngville Café, built in the 1930’s in a pasture for weary Lincoln Highway travelers. The grounds are walkable and the café open seasonally. Continue west to Highway 21 and turn south. The original Lincoln Highway traveled around what the locals lovingly call the “Bohemian Alps”. You will arrive in Belle Plaine. Visit the Belle Plaine Area Museum and Preston’s Station Historic District where you will want to stop for a photo op. Enjoy the many murals in downtown.
Head west out of town, take Highway E66 through Chelsea and follow it as it curves north to meet Highway 30 once again and continue west to Tama. Stop at the Lincoln Highway Bridge for another photo op and follow E49 west out of town. Just before arriving at Montour, stop in the Maple Hill Cemetery and read an interpretive panel about a Lincoln Highway pioneer. Hungry? Stop at the steakhouse in Montour. Continue to Marshalltown. See the historic courthouse that has been restored after both a tornado and a derecho. Check out the many hotel and restaurant options.
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