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Recalling Lincoln Highway

By Staff | Jun 24, 2011

Signs like this can be found across central Iowa roads, either close to or along U.S. Highway 30, which was formerly known as Lincoln Highway.

MARSHALLTOWN – The large blue L’s, seen by drivers posted on bridges, monuments and utility poles for the renowned Lincoln Highway, are as much a part of Central Iowa landscape as corn and soybean fields.

Now, drivers will see even more of the bold signs displayed on new Iowa Byway Heritage route signs installed along its route.

In Marshalltown, one sign is near the intersection of E. Anson Street and Third Avenue South, once part of the famous highway’s route.

Others are on the “Crooked Bridge” corner northeast of the Shady Oaks campground and on 12th Avenue and on E. Olive Street, according to Marshalltown resident Mary Gift.

Their purpose: remind people of the roadway’s prominence in local history and national transportation.

Signs like this can be found across central Iowa roads, either close to or along U.S. Highway 30, which was formerly known as Lincoln Highway.

The project from concept to sign installation, was the work of many, including the National Scenic Byways organization, national and state Lincoln Highway Associations, Iowa Resource, Conservation and Development offices and their planning committees.

The Prairie Rivers of Iowa RC&D office in Ames, managed by Carman Rosburg, monitored the installation of Marshalltown and other Central Iowa signs.

Signs have been installed statewide along the highway route which follows U.S. Highway 30.

The Lincoln Highway was established in 1913 and construction began in 1914.

It was the first transcontinental highway stretching from New York to San Francisco. In Iowa, it begins in Clinton in the East and ends in Council Bluffs in the West, passing through 13 counties and running 472 miles.

It was renamed U.S. Highway 30 in 1926.

“I think of the Lincoln Highway as being iconic, like Route 66,” said local historian and researcher Jay Carollo. “I liked to call it and others ‘blue highways,’ because as secondary roads once, they were outlined in blue.

“Another reason I like the Lincoln Highway, and others, is that they generated many family owned and operated businesses. Here, Shady Oaks campground, home of the Big Treehouse, is a prime example.

“Years ago as a Lincoln Highway business it offered cabins, gasoline and a restaurant for travelers. Colonel Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken got its start on a similar highway in Kentucky.”

Carollo has other memories of the Lincoln Highway.

“I remember they identified the highway route with large concrete pillars,” he said. “Some had bronze markers, others did not.”

There were several routes in Marshalltown according to Lincoln Highway historian Harlan Quick, of State Center.

He said Marshalltown’s Main Street was once part of the route.

The Third Avenue viaduct was also on the route and near Stone’s Restaurant, according to owner Steve Badger.

A large blue L marks the route on a utility pole at the intersection of Church Street and Ninth Street identifying a route and other L’s can be found on E. Anson Street.

Central Iowans in Tama, Marshall and Story counties have seen the signs on roadways and in towns where the route was plotted.

On the east side of Tama is a bridge with large concrete letters which spell out “Lincoln Highway.”

Quick, a retired history teacher, researched archives from the State Center newspaper and Iowa Department of Transportation records to chronicle four different Lincoln Highway/U.S. 30 routes in State Center.

Niland’s Cafe in Colo is another Lincoln Highway landmark.

The restored cafe is in the middle of the Reed-Niland corner located at a “Y” formed by the Lincoln and Jefferson (U.S. Highway 65) highways.

In the 1920s and 30s, the corner was home to a ’round the clock, seven days a week gas station, restaurant and motel.

The Lincoln Highway and others were instrumental in creating the nation’s present day Interstate systems.

Historians acknowledged that President Dwight D. Eishenhower was instrumental in promoting the network and making it a reality.

Eisenhower and other Army officers had taken a cross-country trip in 1918. The experience of traveling over gravel and dirt roads made an impact on him and fellow soldiers.

As a career military man, he understood the importance of an effective transportation system to move troops and supplies in peace and war.

In the Marshalltown area, former Times-Republican Publisher D.W. Norris was instrumental, along with other business and civic leaders, in demanding that main highways be paved and secondary roads be graveled in a “get us out of the mud” campaign.

The first highway paving in Marshall County was laid May 13, 1921 by the Wright Construction Co. near the junction of U.S. Highways 30 and Iowa Highway 14 south of Marshalltown.

Contact Mike Donahey at mdonahey@timesrepublican.com.

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