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Lincoln Highway: Iowa February 4, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Original concrete bridge in Tama, IA

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

I’ve been perusing back issues of the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association newsletter, and it belatedly dawns on me that the Highway is the focus of all sorts of intriguing social activities. For example:

We have done it again! This makes four years in a row—the Lincoln Highway Amateur Radio Group teamed with the Benton County (Iowa) Amateur Radio Club to wake up the sleepy Youngville One-Stop, which at one time included a vintage gas station, cafe and cabins along the original route of the Lincoln Highway….


Join us “4” a good time at the 4th Annual Iowa Lincoln Highway Association River to River Motor Tour from Pottawattamie to Clinton Counties….

The newsletter features a “Name That Lincoln Highway Spot” photo game as well as informative articles. For instance, Iowa LHA president Allan Richards wrote a column about parades along the Highway in which I learned that Tama, IA will have a grand parade this year to celebrate its 150th anniversary. I wish I could be there—maybe I can. Tama is featured in the photo at top.

I suspect that many of the most active members of the LHA are retirees, for several reasons: they have more time, they have memories of the Highway in earlier incarnations, their solid work ethic motivates volunteer efforts, and they are just plain not afraid of having fun. Their activities might seem unsophisticated to weary urbanites or irony-laden Gen X, Y, and Z-ers, but I don’t think these people worry about that a bit.

The route of the Highway across Iowa is simple: it more or less follows US Route 30, with the exception of the usual bypasses around town centers. First of all, to get into Iowa from Illinois, we have to cross the Mississippi.

Gateway Bridge, opened 1956, linking Fulton, IL with Clinton, IA

This is the bridge that now carries US 30, but the Lincoln Highway originally used another bridge further upstream.

Wagon Bridge, built 1891

The Wagon Bridge had a wooden deck that was replaced in 1933 with metal grating to allow snow to melt through. When the grating was installed, a ceremony was held in which a high-dive specialist from Cedar Rapids, the 19-year-old Walter W. Simon, dove from the bridge into the Mississippi. He was paid $100, or $1 per foot of the bridge’s height above the river. The Wagon Bridge was replaced in 1975 by the North Bridge, located a few miles north of the Gateway Bridge.

Clinton was known as a lumbering center in the second half of the 1800s. Log rafts were floated from the great forests of the Upper Midwest and converted to lumber at the city’s sawmills for transshipment via river or railroad. The city boasted 13 millionaires during the period, a rather high number per capita. Key businesses in Clinton were owned by Friedrich Weyerhaeuser, the timber baron and founder of the Weyerhaeuser Company. He is said to have been worth $72 billion in today’s dollars.

Friedrich Weyerhaeuser, timber baron

Along current Route 30 in Clinton, it’s possible to view the Clinton Public Library, a library built 1903-1904 with matching funds from the famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Clinton Public Library

Journeying west from Clinton, we arrive at Cedar Rapids, which calls itself the “City of Five Seasons”—the four seasons plus one to enjoy the other four. This seems paradoxical to me, but I don’t begrudge Iowa’s second largest city the effort to identify itself in a unique way. It is also known as the home of a vibrant Czech community and as the residence of Grant Wood, the painter known for the famous “American Gothic” image. The house in the painting’s background is located in Eldon, IA.

"American Gothic" by Grant Wood

Not far from Cedar Rapids in Mount Vernon, a local artist’s version of the painting appears on the side of a barn. Mt. Vernon is also known for a sidewalk-chalk festival each May in which residents and visitors make their own art in chalk on a large section of Main Street.

The route of the Highway jogs briefly south from US 30 at the west end of Benton County and passes through Belle Plaine, where Preston’s Service Station is located.

Preston's Service Station---"Since 1923"

We pass over the wonderful bridge in Tama depicted at top. All along the way, the Highway’s distinctive red, white, and blue markers can be seen. In the photo below, a marker appears on the Union Pacific Railroad bridge in State Center.

UP bridge with Lincoln Highway marker

After passing Ames, home of Iowa State University, the population thins dramatically. Oddly enough, an extensive stretch of the original brick-surface highway exists for eleven blocks in the tiny hamlet of Woodbine, near the state’s western border. These blocks are pleasantly shaded with large trees, a point worth noting because we have now passed that invisible meridian in the Midwest beyond which trees are for the most part found only along rivers and streams or where planted beside houses. The route of the Highway and US 30 dips southwest to reach the Missouri River at the De Soto National Wildlife Refuge. We are about to enter Nebraska.

Red-Headed Woodpecker at De Soto NWR

Lincoln Highway: Indiana January 15, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Henry C. Ostermann used a Packard Twin Six as the pilot car for the 1919 Motor Transport Convoy. His model was white, as opposed to the two-tone colors of this beautifully restored edition.

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

Indiana’s most notable contribution to the Lincoln Highway may well be the “Ideal Section” of highway located near Dyer in the northwest corner of the state. The Ideal Section carried US Route 30 traffic until 1997, when it was obliterated by a widening project. However, alongside the former road section still stands a memorial to Henry C. Ostermann, avid promoter of the Highway.

In the early years of Lincoln Highway construction, “seedling miles” were built as examples of how a highway should be designed and to stimulate further construction. In 1920, Austin Bemment of the Lincoln Highway Association set about organizing funding and construction of the ultimate seedling mile, the Ideal Section.

Funded by the United States Rubber Company as well as local, state, and federal governments, the 1.3-mile Ideal Section had four 10-foot lanes of steel-reinforced concrete, making it one of the first four-lane highways in the nation. The four-lane concept was a remote ancestor of present-day versions, however, as it had no median and no shoulders. But the Ideal Section boasted overhead lighting—so that cars “need not use headlamps”—at least for that one mile! The four lanes tapered to two at each end, places where unfortunately quite a few accidents occurred in the merging process.

Sadly, highway promoter and LHA field secretary Ostermann was killed in a car accident in Iowa the same year that work on the Ideal Section began. The LHA commissioned landscape architect Jens Jensen to design a memorial to Ostermann as well as other features along the Section. Jensen, known for his work in the Chicago park system, also drew designs for an Ideal Campsite and an Ideal Filling Station—a limestone structure that housed gas station, store, and rest rooms. (The campsite and filling station were never actually built.) Promoters envisioned the Ideal Section as spurring growth of other Ideal features in the vicinity, such as beautiful country homes and a golf course.

Brevet Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) participated in the 1919 convoy, guided by Ostermann

The year before he died, Ostermann had played a key role in the 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy. Having driven across the nation 19 times, he was literally the only one who knew the way across what was then still a patchwork of roads that ranged from concrete to mud. The convoy started in Washington, DC, but joined the Lincoln Highway route in Pennsylvania. In his white Packard Twin Six, Ostermann drove two to ten days ahead of the main convoy. (I plan to devote a separate blog post to this convoy.)

The route of the Lincoln Highway across Indiana changed significantly in 1928. Before that time, the highway followed the route of the New York Central Railroad through populated regions of northern Indiana, taking it through Elkhart and South Bend along what is now US Route 33. The more direct route westward from Fort Wayne along the route of the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne & Chicago Railroad traversed a rural area that featured virtually no automobile traffic. It wasn’t until 1928 that the highway took that more direct route along what became US 30, in the process knocking 20 miles off the state-wide distance.

Because the earlier, more northerly route went through the more populated area of the state, most of the major points of interest are found there rather than along the post-1928 route. In the following, I share a few pictures of points and related historical images along the way.

For travelers coming from Ohio on Route 30, Fort Wayne is the gateway to Indiana. The fort was founded by “Mad Anthony Wayne,” the active and aggressive Revolutionary War commander who served in many locales, most notably at Stony Point on the Hudson in 1779, where he personally led a bayonet attack by night on a British stronghold. His connection with the Indiana locale came after the war in 1794, when under his direction the U.S. Army built Fort Wayne as one of a series of constructions near villages of the Miami Indians.

"Mad Anthony" Wayne

Continuing northwest of Fort Wayne, an original brick section of the Lincoln Highway has been preserved near Ligonier.

Brick section near Ligonier on Old Route 33

Ligonier also boasts a handsome town clock.

Ligonier town clock

The Elkhart County Courthouse is one of many admirable examples of courthouse architecture along the Highway.

Elkhart County Courthouse in Goshen

Goshen is famous for a pair of tornadoes that destroyed a trailer park and a housing development in nearby Dunlap on April 11, 1965. Numerous other tornadoes struck Elkhart County that day, including other parts of Goshen.

The twin funnels must have been a terrifying sight.

Moving west to South Bend, any aficionado of highway and automobile history would surely want to visit the Studebaker Museum. Its exhibits include not only many Studebaker car models but vehicles produced for military purposes as well as wagons and carriages of historic interest.

Studebaker Sceptre concept car, produced in the 1960s

In La Porte County, we pass another attractive courthouse. I can’t help but wonder if there was friendly competition between these Indiana counties to build the most impressive structure!

La Porte County Courthouse

As we approach the Illinois border, we come to the town of Dyer, the location of the former Ideal Section and the Henry Ostermann Memorial Bench, which can be found adjoining a monument to the Sauk Trail.

A pleasant place to exit the Lincoln Highway's Indiana segment.

Lincoln Highway: Ohio—part 2 December 19, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Minerva, OH, boasts an old gas station whose pumps are now filled with real coffee beans for the establishment now in charge.

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

When we traversed the four miles of Lincoln Highway that cross a sliver of West Virginia, we visited the manufacturer of Fiestaware in Newell, WV. That town is located on the east bank of the Ohio River. Right across the river, East Liverpool, OH, similarly boasts a history of pottery-making.  Why East Liverpool? you may ask. It’s because a town called Liverpool already existed in western Ohio, and it vehemently protested the use of its name. That more westerly Liverpool has long since disappeared.

This East Liverpool pottery operated 1844 to 1939

An English potter named James Bennett started producing ceramics near the banks of the Ohio in the 1840s. At the height of its glory, East Liverpool’s production accounted for more than half of the nation’s pottery output. Most famous was the “Lotus Ware” manufactured by Knowles, Taylor & Knowles in the 1890s. It featured swirling, dreamlike Art Nouveau forms—suitable for the hookah of Kubla Khan.

East Liverpool was one of eight Ohio towns to contribute funds in 1915 for the making of a movie about the Lincoln Highway, hence to be included in the film, according to Mike Buettner’s account.

The Lincoln Highway roughly follows US Route 30 across the state, although that route now bypasses many town centers. Buettner’s description follows the 1928 route, noting the turnoffs from US 30, the dead ends, and the traces of historic brick pavement along the way. I see him as the archeologist of the Lincoln Highway in Ohio. I will proceed in a more superficial fashion, simply noting points of interest on or close to the highway.

We pass through the historic town of Hanoverton, an important stop on the Underground Railway in the Civil War period. It is known for the Spread Eagle Tavern, established 1837 and now a regular stop for campaigning politicians. It has been visited by Abraham Lincoln, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and John McCain. The first of those names so totally overshadows the others that I half-expected my spell-check program to reject those last three names as I typed.

You probably wouldn't order tofu and bean sprouts at the Spread Eagle Tavern's Patriot Room.

The channel of the old Sandy & Beaver Canal  parallels the highway west of Hanoverton. It operated just four years (1848 to 1852) before succombing to structural problems and competition with railroads.

Sandy & Beaver Canal

The route continues through Minerva, home of the coffee-bean filling station pictured at top, and through East Canton. This section offers several remnants of the old brick paving, including an impressively “photogenic” segment 2.4 miles long, according to Buettner.

The next major point of interest—we are necessarily speeding along here—is Canton, which boasts two very different attractions: the William McKinley memorial and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An early photo of the McKinley memorial shows the “Long Water,” a rectangular pool bordered by brooding trees—a place suitable for quiet meditation about the assassinated 25th President.

McKinley Memorial as it appeared before 1951

But the pool was filled in, the large trees removed, and the memorial has lost something of its spirit, I feel.

Modern McKinley Memorial

Canton’s claim to special importance for pro football stems from its being the place the American Professional Football Association (predecessor of the NFL) was founded in 1920. The Hall of Fame opened 1963 and has been greatly expanded since then.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Canton and Massillon are bypassed by modern US 30, but Massillon has a Lincoln Way running through town along the old route. Several places of business feature the Lincoln name, including the Lincoln Theatre.

Lincoln Theatre

The theater opened 1915 and must have been a nice place for early travelers on the Lincoln Highway to take a break.  It had a pipe organ to accompany the silent screen and “was considered the finest moving picture house in Ohio,” according to the theater’s website. It has been through several incarnations and was rescued from ruin by the Lions Club in 1982. It now features classic films for the lucky local residents.

Massillon is also famous for its Massillon Washington high school football team, which has a deadly rivalry with Canton McKinley. Massillon’s Tiger Swing Band, formed in 1938, features musicians marching with a swing step, which you can see in this YouTube video.

Also in Massillon, travelers may admire the Stark County Court House, built in 1870. Four angels with trumpets perch high on the clock tower.

Stark County Court House

Forging ahead to the west, we pass through Dalton, which has “the distinction of being the first Lincoln Highway town in Ohio to be bypassed with a superhighway,” writes Buettner.  Next we visit Wooster, home not only to the College of Wooster but also, up until very recently, Boyd’s Drug Store, an establishment which for many years preserved its late-19th-century heritage. It boasted oak counters, glass-stoppered bottles, old-fashioned brass balance scales, mortars and pestles, pill rollers, and many other such paraphernalia. Sadly, the pharmacy closed in 2000 and its contents were recently auctioned off.

Coming next, Mansfield is one of the towns that has some really beautiful old houses along or close to the Highway. Imagine sitting on the porch of this impressive home and sipping lemonade on a summer evening.

One of many lovely old houses in Mansfield

Buettner tells the story that the route of the Highway through Mansfield changed several times in the 1920s. When the route went along Fourth Street, merchants on nearby Park Street supposedly moved the Lincoln Highway signs by stealth over to their Park Street location.

The Highway continues through Crestline to Bucyrus, a town known as the “Bratwurst Capital of the World.” An annual festival features a beauty pageant.

Downtown Bucyrus

It’s around the vicinity of Bucyrus that a surprisingly high number of Lincoln Highway pillars appear to have met with a tragic fate. First, let me explain that in addition to the concrete posts with the Lincoln Highway emblem that were erected by Boy Scout troops across the whole highway in the thoroughfare’s early years, larger pillars were built in many places. These were not uniform in appearance—not “official” markers in any way—but were simply constructions sponsored by a variety of people of their own volition, in a variety of designs. Buettner gives a detailed account of many of these installations. One, for instance, was a substantial monument erected 1921 near Osceola to commemorate the completion of brick paving across Crawford County.

At any rate, within a short stretch of highway one pillar was demolished by a wayward car in 1927; one was destroyed by a landowner who did not want it in front of his property; and one survived until 1993 before being wiped out by a van. The second of these was dedicated to Henry Ostermann, field secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association, who was himself killed in a traffic accident. To top it all off, a bridge over the nearby Sandusky River collapsed in 1931 when a Studebaker truck slammed into the steel truss structure. It all amounted to a strange confluence of accidents—a “Bermuda Triangle” of sorts for the Lincoln Highway.

We continue the theme of accidents: in 1939, at the hamlet of Gomer,  Admiral Byrd’s “Snow Cruiser” plummeted into a nearby creek. The gigantic polar exploration vehicle, measuring 55’8″ long, 19’10” wide, and 16′ high, was constructed in Pullman shops in Chicago and had to reach Boston via ordinary cross-country highways in less than two months in order to meet the ocean vessel of Byrd’s Antarctic expedition.

The 75,000-pound contraption looked like something straight out of Jules Verne. It was designed to traverse crevasse-ridden wastes to probe the South Pole continent for mineral wealth that might be exploited by the U.S. Its giant tires were set close to the center of the vehicle and could be retracted into the body. When a crevasse was encountered, the front tires would be retracted while the back wheels pushed the front across the hazardous gap. Once the front half had cleared the obstacle, the back wheels would be retracted and the front ones would pull the Cruiser the rest of the way across.

Admiral Byrd's Snow Cruiser

That all sounded good in theory. However, the Cruiser proved woefully underpowered, lacking the necessary flotation, burrowing its nose deep into snowbanks again and again. But even before it arrived on the Ross Ice Shelf, it had plenty of trouble just getting from Chicago to Boston. Constantly scraping against bridges, sideswiping other vehicles, and struggling to make headway through crowds of curious onlookers, it limped its way through Indiana and into Ohio. Upon reaching a sharp curve near Gomer, the Cruiser’s brakes apparently failed—the incident was blamed on a break in a hydraulic line—and took out a fence and a guardrail on its wild descent into Pike Run. National media converged on the little western Ohio village, along with throngs of onlookers.

The Cruiser did manage to reach Boston at last and met Byrd’s ship North Star in time to sail November 15. Plagued by mechanical problems at its destination, the Snow Cruiser was at last abandoned in early 1941. Another minor problem had developed for the expedition—World War II had started. For an informative account about the whole history of the ill-starred Cruiser, go to this link.

As we approach the Indiana state line, we visit Van Wert County, where in 1994 the local historical society placed four sets of Burma Shave signs along the Highway. Here are a couple of my favorite Burma Shave verses—now isn’t this better than today’s billboards?

Does your husband/ Misbehave/ Grunt and grumble/ Rant and rave/ Shoot the brute some/ Burma Shave.

A peach/ Looks good/ With lots of fuzz/ But man’s no peach/ And never wuz/ Burma Shave.

It’s best for/ One who hits/ The bottle/ To let another/ Use the throttle/ Burma Shave.

And a 1960s-vintage one: Henry the Eighth/ Sure had/ Trouble/ Short term wives/ Long term stubble/ Burma Shave.

We’ll see you soon in Indiana!

Van Wert County Court House, opened 1876 and restored in the 1990s.