Tours start at coasts, meet in middle
June 28, 2013 · Dave Morris
A Lincoln Highway Association driving tour celebrating the road's centennial will pass through Mount Vernon and Lisbon this Friday.
Two hundred seventy people in 140 vehicles are scheduled to make the trip, some starting from the east in New York's Times Square and some from the west in San Francisco, eventually meeting in Kearney, Neb. Those traveling from New York will pass through Eastern Iowa.
Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group director Joe Jennison said the tour is scheduled to pass through between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in small groups of vehicles.
There are no formal events planned here, but Mount Vernon has been designated as the lunch stop for the travelers. The north side of First Street West, between First Avenue (Hwy. 1) and Second Avenue, will be closed to parking except for visitors traveling on the tour in historic vehicles, Jennison said.
"There are to be 109 people in just over 50 vehicles," Jennison said, adding that balloons and signs from the Lincoln Highway Association will mark local restaurants for the visitors.
Local people with historic vehicles or who just have an interest are able to help welcome the visitors, Jennison said.
The Lincoln Highway Association reports the travelers will be going about 240 miles a day while driving both older and newer portions of the road in everything from classics and muscle cars to motorcycles and modern vehicles.
The travelers originating on the East Coast began on Saturday, June 22, in Times Square in New York. The group travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois before crossing Iowa.
On Friday, the group will leave the prior night's stop at Rochelle, Ill., and make a stop in Fulton, Ill., on the Mississippi River, before heading through Lisbon and on to Mount Vernon.
Following their lunch stop in Mount Vernon, the travelers continue on the highway with afternoon stops at the Belle Plaine Area Museum and Tama's Lincoln Highway bridge before dinner at the historic Niland's Cafe in Colo. They will spend the night in Ames.
It was 100 years ago on July 1 that the Lincoln Highway Association was established.
That group is sponsoring the 100th anniversary tour that will pass through Mount Vernon and Lisbon on Friday. Mount Vernon has been designated as an informal lunch stop between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day.
As car travel became more popular and practical, the association advocated that the Lincoln Highway be the nation's primary coast-to-coast road.
Carl Fisher, an early automobile enthusiast, was an active promoter of the Lincoln Highway, raising money from many of his auto industry contacts. After getting permission from Congress to call the road the Lincoln Highway, Fisher and some members of the Lincoln Highway Association organizers set out on their "Trail-Blazer tour" to select the route.
As might be expected, the roads in the eastern part of the nation were in better shape than those west of the Mississippi River.
Richard Weingroff, in an essay on the Lincoln Highway for the Federal Highway Administration, points out that parts of the Lincoln Highway followed historic roads, such as a New Jersey road dating to 1675 laid out by Dutch colonists; the Lancaster Pike, completed in 1796, in Pennsylvania; an ancient Indian trail in Ohio; sections of the Mormon Trail and routes of the Overland Stage Line and the Pony Express; and the Donner Pass over the Sierra Nevada in California.
The route of the Lincoln Highway was dedicated on Oct. 31, 1913. The 1916 Lincoln Highway "Official Road Guide" projected that the cross-country trip would take between 20 and 30 days at a speed of 18 miles per hour. The guide includes the following passages referring to Iowa:
A weather warning: "It is hard work and can be considered nothing less, driving across either Illinois, Iowa or Nebraska during or just following heavy rains."
The importance of waiting out the weather: Also, an indication that towns along the route could benefit from drivers waiting out the weather: "REMEMBER: In Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, after heavy rains, that if the tourist will remain over in the community in which he is stopping for five or ten hours, it will enable him to proceed in comfort, as the roads are well graded and dry very rapidly. Such a delay will, in the end, save time and will save your car, your tires and your temper, and make your trip more enjoyable."
A well-graded road: "Iowa has spent $250,000 in round figures and keeps her section graded, crowned, drained and dragged in the best possible manner. In dry weather there is no finer road on earth than the Lincoln Highway in Iowa."
A search of the archives of the Sun and its predecessors shows hundreds of stories through the decades about the development of the Lincoln Highway.
In April of 1997, the Sun carried an article about a meeting at Gwen's Restaurant in Lisbon of 50 members of the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association. At that meeting, association president Bob Ausberger pointed out that tourism was the way to preserve the highway for the future. The group toured the Linn County portions of the Lincoln Highway, including stops at the wooden viaduct over the Union Pacific tracks on the west edge of Mount Vernon and at an abandoned service station at the beginning of the Seedling Mile west of town. That service station has since been demolished.
The Sun reported that one member of the club told of a story about the gas station from years before:
"The story goes that a group of men, who looked like gangsters, stopped at the station for gas. The men did not have the money to pay for the gas, so they opened the car's trunk and took out their guns.
"The men said they would leave their guns with the station and return to get them when they had the money to pay for the gas. And, the story concludes, the men actually did return with the payment."