The Lincoln Highway Across Iowa

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Though other auto trails existed here and there in pieces, most roadie historians credit the Lincoln Highway (LH) as being the first organized transcontinental auto route and peg its inception at 1913. From New York City to San Francisco, the LH traversed 11 states (13 if you count alternate routings!) on its coast to coast journey. Though initially many portions of the LH were hardly 'roads' at all, local political and business leaders lobbied hard to improve area conditions in order to better serve their communities and literally drive commerce to their towns. With its well marked roads, active marketing and promotional literature, the LH Association set the standard for other organizations to follow. Not many were as successful because even though the LH was technically obsolete with the passage of the 1926 Highway Act that brought the numbered U.S. highways into existence, the LH Association remained active and the name remained in the common vernacular until WWII. So even though Route 66 was coined the 'Mother Road' by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, I think we can affectionately call the LH the Father Road - the first, the oldest, the example for others to follow and emulate.

 

On its way west, the LH traversed right through the heart of Iowa, the 'Heartland' of America'. Thankfully, in many places, life has not changed much along the Father Road. Indeed, many of the small towns along the old LH in Iowa are still doing just fine. Farmers still bring their goods to market along its arteries and locals still shop in vibrant, flower lined little downtowns and eat in their diners. So though often bypassed by newer versions of U.S. 30, unlike Route 66 which was more dependent on the transient tourist dollar, the LH remains wonderfully alive in many towns as a local gathering point...as home.

 

Iowa's LH has another important factor working in its favor: awareness! With the possible exception of Route 66 in Illinois, nowhere in my travels have I seen so many municipalities celebrating the old road. Most towns have LH murals, many of the old road markers are intact, people have painted LH markers on telephone poles; there are multiple diners and area businesses utilizing the LH as a marketing tie in and there is an active Iowa Chapter of the renewed LH Association. Best of all, Iowa's Department of Transportation (IDOT) has marked almost all of the LH's main and county roads throughout the state so one does not even really have to be intimate with the LH...just follow the signs!

 

So let me show you some of what we saw on a whirlwind trip in July of 2012. As I mentioned, I was so pleasantly surprised at just how nice of a drive this was...not just from a historical standpoint, but also from being on these well-maintained county roads. For awhile, life was slower and if I squinted just right, I could see glimpses of those old jalopies on the LH beside me.

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