I grew up around Highway 30, part of the old Lincoln Highway. In fact there is a seedling mile (where the road was paved in a small section to encourage people to cough up the money to do the rest) not far from here. The Lincoln Highway is second only to Route 66 in fame around here, so I was really surprised when a friend from New England recently told me that she had never heard of it.
The Lincoln Highway was the first highway across America. It was named after our 16th President in an effort to get people interested in promoting it. It strove to be the first paved highway and while that didn’t happen for quite a while, they did foster several local efforts at road improvement along the route. (In fact, it took it about as long to be paved as it’s taking to make Highway 30 four lanes across the state, a project
that was supposed to be finished the year I was born and still isn’t.) How well the Lincoln Highway is marked today depends on where you are in a state. Often a county wide project will put up street banners or re-paint the red, white, and blue bands with black Ls back on the telephone poles. Cement markers with a plate resembling a giant penny and an arrow were also used as markers and you will sometimes still see one of these in place. Tama, Iowa is known for its Lincoln Highway bridge with the letters carved in the sides. I always look for this bridge when I take a Highway 30 trip. Laura Ingalls Wilder suggested in one of her
post-World War I “Missouri Ruralist” columns that trees be planted along this route in honor of the fallen war dead. Read more about the highway in Iowa here:
I had started this entry already when I caught part of the debut of a new PBS special on the Lincoln Highway. Read more about it here: http://www.wqed.org/tv/sebak/lincoln_hwy/
On a recent trip back from Ames I stopped at Colo to see their gas station museum, hotel, cafe, and auto park remains. They also talk about the Jefferson Highway that I hadn’t heard much about, it approximately follows modern U.S. 65 with parts of U.S. 69 and crosses the Lincoln Highway at Colo just a little northeast of Ames. It’s really pretty interesting and while I’ve often driven on parts of the Lincoln Highway it makes me want to do a more organized jaunt and next summer I hope to take a day and do a drive. Read more about the Jefferson Highway here:
Other once storied roads in Iowa that are marked in Iowa on the telephone poles once included the White Way (white bands around the poles – mostly Highway 6) and the Red Ball Route (red balls on white bands, like the Japanese flag) – I didn’t say we were all creative in Iowa. Both routes have limited restored sections and leave restaurants, etc. with their name along the old line routes. A map I have shows several dozen others including the Herbert Hoover Highway with 3 arranged Hs, but these are the ones I have driven on.
Read about the other highway routes (several that extended beyond Iowa) and see their symbols here: http://www.iowadot.gov/autotrails/autoroutes_registered.htm
So take a few blue highways on your next trip and enjoy some of these old routes. If you can’t drum up enthusiasm, watch the Disney movie “Cars” first.
UPDATE: Watch a video introducing the Lincoln Highway.
UPDATE June 2014:
Since I lasted updated this I have learned that the movement to save the Lincoln Highway started in Iowa:
And that they have a garage sale the length of the Lincoln Highway, complete with outrageous pun “Lincoln Highway Buy-Way” held in August:
And that the Iowa group is now on Facebook:
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.