Classic Road Trip: Iowa's Lincoln Highway
Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Lincoln Highway
One hundred years ago, the fastest way to cross the country was by train. Roads were only of local interest and were not used to travel long distances. The Lincoln Highway changed all of that when it was completed in 1913.
The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway to span 14 states and take travelers from New York to San Francisco. Because the Lincoln Highway was a collection of roads and not specially designed like the highways and interstates we know today, traveling it is an exciting and unique adventure full of historical sites. Those who travel the Lincoln Highway through Iowa can follow the original route closely and remember the days of the classic road trip.
Official Lincoln Highway Route Map
Watch for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway signs as you create your own tour of the Lincoln Highway with the suggestions below.
Lincoln Highway Signage
Photo by Tom Apgar
Start your trip at the widest part of the Mississippi River, which spans three and a half miles. The Lyons-Fulton Bridge is your crossing point into Iowa's portion of the Lincoln Highway.
The Lincoln Highway bypasses Lincoln Park in the center of town.
Vintage Cars Traveling the Lincoln Highway
Photo by Mike Kelly
Between Calamus and Clarence, you can "get off the beaten path" and see an abandoned section of the Lincoln Highway that was removed from the route in 1956 when a new two-lane road was built. The original road is not drivable.
In Lowden, the Lincoln Highway meets the Hoover Highway. Check out the Historic Lincoln Hotel Bed and Breakfast - built in 1915, the hotel hosted workers and travelers on the Pacific and Northwestern Railroads and the Old Lincoln Highway.
Lincoln Hotel, Lowden
Just past Cornell College, watch for the Union Pacific Bridge.
Your first major metropolitan area on the route features the first paved mile of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, called the "Seedling Mile," located halfway between Marion and Mount Vernon. The Lincoln Highway originally wound through Marion's city streets and followed 1st Ave. through downtown Cedar Rapids. When Marion lost the Linn County seat to Cedar Rapids in 1921, a more direct route from Mount Vernon to Cedar Rapids was created.
On the corner of Hwy. 30 and Hwy. 218 you can find the Youngville Cafe, one of the few remaining rural filling station/eateries in Iowa created in response to the historic highway. The cafe continues to serve lunch and host a weekly Farmer's Market.
At the crossroads of the Lincoln Highway and the Union Pacific Railroad, Belle Plaine has numerous historical sites, including the Belle Plaine Museum, the Lincoln Cafe, the Herring Hotel (being renovated) and the King Theater.
In Tama, you will cross the only original Lincoln Highway Bridge that you can still drive over. The bridge was built in 1915. Also in Tama, visit the King Tower Cafe, originally built in 1937 and promoted as one of the most modern 24-hour truck stops in the Midwest. It consisted of a two-story restaurant, filling station and cabin camp. Although the filling station and garage have been torn down, the cafe reopened in 2012. Watch for the spectacular Indian-head neon sign out front.
Lincoln Highway Bridge, Tama
Stop at Watson's Grocery Store, a restored grocery and mercantile store built in 1895. Most of the antique fixtures remain and the museum preserves the look and feel of the turn of the century.
Watson's Grocery Store, State Center
Photo by Tom Apgar
Between 1923 and 1995, the Reed and Niland families operated the Reed/Niland Corner, a "one-stop" business for gas, food and lodging for travelers along the Lincoln and Jefferson Highways. The gas station, cafe, tourist cabins, shower building, motel and apartment building are all still standing and the Reed/Niland Corner remains open for business as Niland's Cafe.
As you drive through Ames, you'll pass directly through Iowa State University's campus, where the first electronic digital computer was created. Stop at the Durham Center to see an exhibit on its history and development. Other stops on campus include Reiman Gardens and the Brunnier Art Museum.
Take the opportunity to marvel at the Lincoln Highway's predecessor - the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. The railway got its start in 1893 and now you can hop aboard the tourist line railroad for a 15-mile trip through the Des Moines River Valley and over the famous Kate Shelley Bridge.
Original Lincoln Highway Bridge Near Grand Junction
Photo by Mike Whye
Stop at the Mahanay Bell Tower, a 14-story carillon with a view of Jefferson and the surrounding countryside from a 120-foot high observation deck. Fourteen bronze bells chime the time of day. In western Greene County (north of Scranton), stop by the Moss Markers, dedicated in 1924 by James Moss as a monument to Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Moss was a decorated veteran who lost a foot in the Civil War.
Lincoln Highway, West of Carroll
Photo by Angie Tomka
Famous for their pie, Cronk's Cafe was originally opened in 1929 to attract travelers from the Lincoln Highway. Also in Denison along the Lincoln Highway, The Historic Park Motel is on the National Historic Registry.
Woodbine is home to the longest intact original brick portions of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa. The main thoroughfare is lined with picturesque homes and restored canopy gas stations. You can stop at these stations for Lincoln Highway information and memorabilia. Other historic sites along this stretch include the Woodbine Carnegie Library, Merry Brook Rural School Museum and the Harrison County Genealogy Office.
Woodbine's Main Street Station & Community Meeting Room
Photo Courtesy Woodbine Main Street
The Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center includes a Lincoln Highway marker in its original location and a media presentation on the Highway is available for viewing in the theatre.