Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Iowa road trip: Lincoln Highway historical exhibit, Missouri Valley

 I've been fascinated by the history of the Lincoln Highway ever since I started seeing these new Iowa Byway signs popping up along Highway 30 in central Iowa.

I discovered a new Lincoln Highway exhibit at the Harrison County Welcome Center in Missouri Valley, a little town tucked into the Loess Hills of western Iowa.  The welcome center has a terrific indoor and outdoor display with photos and interpretive signs telling the story of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa.

If you're not familiar with its history, the Lincoln Highway was the first highway to stretch across the United States from New York City to San Francisco. It was started in the early 1900s, around the time that automobiles were just hitting the road.  Actually, "highway" is a loose description.  The Lincoln Highway was a series of roads; at first, most of them were mud trails.  Over time, the roads eventually were paved.  Here in Iowa, the Lincoln Highway is the precursor to Highway 30 and Interstate 80 in central Iowa.

But back to the Welcome Center, I was delighted to see on display an original concrete marker, with a Lincoln medallion. The host at the Welcome Center told me the marker was placed by the Boy Scouts back in the 1930s. The Lincoln Highway used to run right through the Welcome Center, back when the land was an apple orchard.  In the 1970s, the farmer sold the land to the county to create a conservation/welcome center.  So the Lincoln Highway marker is pretty much in its original spot, even though its not on the highway anymore.

The outdoor exhibit was excellent.  I'm glad I stopped to check it out.  I found a large map of the Lincoln Highway's path through Iowa.

There was a model of an old filling station.  (You can still see a lot of these old filling stations when you drive along the old Lincoln Highway in Iowa.)

And this was really neat:  You could walk through a small-scale re-creation of the Lincoln Highway to get a feel for what it was like to drive on the roads in the 1920s.

Another highlight was a demonstration of the different types of roads that made up the Lincoln Highway -- dirt, gravel and paved.  I learned that Iowa was notorious for being the "stuck in the mud" state.  Cars would sink into the muddy roads whenever it rained.

I highly recommend a stop at the Harrison County Welcome Center if you're traveling to the Loess Hills.  It's a great area of the state to visit.

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