The modern Lincoln Highway Association had its rebirth in Iowa, and for good reason – many of the historic roads and places on the route are still unchanged and/or in use today. Agriculture is still the prominent industry along the route as it would haven been across the nation a century ago. The road has been categorized as a “Heritage Byway” by the state, and the signage here is excellent. You even have the options to take special loop sections along the original gravel routes to really get the old experience of what the route would have been like long ago.
My travels in Iowa thus far on the original route have been tricky. Due to the excessive rain in the state, many low-lying areas and rivers have flooded, and this includes some of the original gravel stretches in Eastern Iowa. Now normally I wouldn’t balk at a little water on the road, but when it has a current running through it, I didn’t want to take the chance. Between the Iowa mud (known as “gumbo”) and the rain travelers faced on the Lincoln Highway 100 years ago, I can see why many travelers turned back at this point.
Before I left Illinois, I received an unexpected but very cool phone call. A 94 year old man by the name of John Schild (known as “Dick” by most), heard of what I was doing. He then asked if we were related, as he had a cousin with the last name of “Otto”. I told him I wasn’t sure, but between us being possibly related, what I was doing for my project, and just exchanging general pleasantries, I had an invitation to visit and tour Belle Plaine, Iowa with John who had spent his whole life in town watching the Lincoln Highway grow and change before his eyes.
I spent about whole day touring the whole city with him, plus I had the pleasure of also having lunch at the Lincoln Cafe and afternoon conversation with him and Bill Sankot, the owner of the Sankot Garage, a place that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The intermittent rain that day facilitated some of the deepest conversations I’ve had on this tour thus far. Back in the heydays of the highway, men would gather at the garage to talk about the news of the day. This particular gloomy Wednesday in June, a 94 year old (Dick), a 60 something year old (Bill), and a 30 something year old (me) sat in the same garage and talked for hours about any and every topic you can think of in society. What did I (Cece) think of the country’s future? Are computers really the downfall of human society? If you could have one modern thing to take back with you a 100 years ago, what would it be? Take these questions and sprinkle in fun stories and anecdotes from our lives (including a few famous people), and you have an amazing, living aural history right in front of you. By the time my day had come to a close my brain was swimming with so much information, I was relieved I had recorded about 80% of our conversations that day.
Before you check out all of the cool photos in the picture gallery below, here’s a couple websites that give more information about the pictures below.
1) Belle Plaine Museum: This museum is quite a find for the area, and has several wonderful collections. A must stop for any Lincoln Highway buff.
2) Youngville Café: Built in 1931, this was a fully functioning gas station, café, and small cabin court along the highway until the late 1960’s. It too is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and now is open a couple days a week for lunch.
And now onto the gallery!
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