116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ready for a road trip? If you're searching for scenic highways and byways, the Lincoln Highway is both.
Stretching from New York City to San Francisco, 460 miles of the nation's first transcontinental automobile road passes through 13 counties and 43 communities in Iowa.
It basically follows Highway 30 from the Mississippi to the Missouri rivers, and offers motorists so many historic attractions that it was deemed a Heritage Byway in 2006. In mid-February, its profile rose even higher when it was named a National Scenic Byway. It's now one of 34 newly designated National Scenic Byways, joining 150 others with that national recognition, including the Lincoln Highway in Illinois and Nebraska.
'We have three states right in a row that all have this national significance now,' said Jan Gammon, Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway coordinator for Prairie Rivers of Iowa, based in Ames.
'I think it just shows that even though it's an older road, it's still very contemporary and very important to travelers and to communities. And it will bring about a bigger playing field, a bigger reach for people to come and experience the Lincoln Highway and learn more about it.'
Gaining that national designation was not an easy process. Gammon had to fill out a 14-page form and by the time she added the auxiliary documentation, the package totaled nearly 500 pages for the decision-makers to pore over.
The route isn't a straight shot from river to river in Iowa — or coast to coast. Dedicated in 1913, the Lincoln Highway started out as a transcontinental rock road. Gradually, stretches were paved and some were widened to four lanes, like some of the original sections that traverse Eastern Iowa. But it also zigzags along some county roads and even rock roads in Iowa, Gammon said.
'There's some sections that are interesting,' she said, and some deviate from the recent four-lane Highway 30 community bypasses, which she said can get confusing. In some spots, you might be zipping along Highway 30, but not necessarily the original Lincoln Highway. Signage ranging from red-white-and-blue 'L' logos painted on concrete posts and utility poles to roadside banners help point the way through history.
'There's 1,200 of those signs across the state,' Gammon said, 'and you should be able to follow those signs turn by turn. I haven't done an inventory since the derecho went through, so there could be some signs missing.'
The Aug. 10 inland hurricane winds whipped a path of destruction along portions of the Lincoln Highway, from Ames to Cedar Rapids and eastward. The storm also damaged the property around one of the oldest and most famous landmarks — the Youngville Cafe in rural Benton County, less than 20 miles west of Cedar Rapids. Built in 1931 as a gas station and cafe, the Tudor-style structure was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
The gas pumps are merely decorative today, and volunteers had been running the cafe during the summer in recent years, but the pandemic shut its doors last year. Then the derecho broke off trees, destroyed a garage out back and flattened the sign out front. With the pandemic still upon us, the cafe is too small to allow for physical distancing.
'All of our volunteers are over 70 and the pie baker is 93,' said Miriam Hanke of Cedar Rapids, whose husband, James, has recently served as president of the cafe's board of directors. She doesn't expect it to reopen this year. But the cafe/museum still is standing, capturing a picture of the past for motorists who now drive past it.
With the promise of nicer weather spring to fall, Gammon expects to see more people hitting the open road, and with the Lincoln Highway's higher profile, more roadway organizations will be promoting it. Brochures are placed in welcome centers, and information is available online from the Lincoln Highway Association's website, lincolnhighwayassoc.org, and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway on Facebook and online at prrcd.org/lincoln-highway-heritage-byway/
A ribbon-cutting ceremony also is in the works for June, and will be announced when details have been finalized.
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