America’s first transcontinental highway ran right through Iowa. From Clinton in the east to Missouri Valley in the west, US Highway 30 – aka Lincoln Highway – today is a combination of the original route and revamped roadways. One thing remains, the vintage highway is home to unique attractions, from a German-style barn to a giant cornstalk.
Clinton was once the “Lumber Capital” of the world, because of its proximity to the Wisconsin logging industry and the Mississippi River. With pieces from the Struve Mill, the Sawmill Museum uses interactive displays among its exhibits in sharing the story of logging in the region. Among the Sawmill Museum’s displays is a replica of a sawmill production floor.
German Hausbarn Museum
Seeking to celebrate German history and culture, DeWitt is home to the German Hausbarn Museum. Built in 1727, the house/barn was disassembled in 2007 and transported from Niebull in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, and reassembled in DeWitt a year later.
Maintaining its authenticity, the German Hausbarn includes a thatched roof. Located in Lincoln Park, the German Hausbarn Museum showcases the story of German immigration to the area.
National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library
Where: Cedar Rapids
Celebrating the history, traditions, and culture of Czech and Slovak immigrants, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library features a combination of exhibits to tell the story. With alternating exhibits, the museum showcases a variety of topics to share its story, from immigrants’ homes and clothing to sports and cultural festivals and celebrations.
Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge
With the words “Lincoln Highway” carved into its railings, the Historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama is about 110 years old. Imagine the history the bridge has witnessed over the last century, from early automobiles such as Ford’s Model-T to today’s electric vehicles.
Horse-drawn wagons likely made their way across the Tama bridge. Spanning 22 feet, the bridge covers Mud Creek. Completed in 1915, the bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Mildred’s Observation Tower
Standing 30 feet above the ground, visitors can take in the view of Iowa farmland, carved during the ice age, as glaciers made their way south into the Hawkeye State. As they receded, the glaciers left begin flat farmland, perfect for growing crops. From another angle, people can see the Marshalltown skyline and Linn Creek corridor.
The Mildred Hach Grimes Memorial Observation Tower was built in 2009, and can hold 12-15 people on the top platform.
Once the world’s largest garden gnome, Elwood was dwarfed when a new gnome was built in Scandinavia. So, instead of referring to him as the “World’s second-largest Gnome,” Elwood – at 15 feet tall – became the world’s largest concrete gnome. His self-esteem intact, Elwood encourages visitors to explore 17 acres of flowers and plants at Reiman Gardens on the campus of Iowa State University.
The botanical garden hosts special attractions throughout the year, such as statues created from recycled plastic. Reiman Gardens is also home to a butterfly exhibit, with up to 800 butterflies flittering about.
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad
All aboard! Hop aboard a 1920s passenger train and enjoy an old-fashioned train ride among some of Iowa’s most beautiful scenery. The daylong fun begins with a visit to the depot museum, where you see Iowa’s rail history told through a series of exhibits. Open spring through fall, the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad also offers dinner excursions on the Wolf Dinner Train, aboard a 1950s passenger train.
For the adventurous rail fans, hop aboard a Rail Explorers rail bike and pedal your way on the same line used by the train, traveling 12.5 miles round trip. The highlight of the ride includes crossing a 750-foot-long trestle bridge, offering a majestic view of the Des Moines River valley.
Lincoln Highway Interpretive Site
Where: Grand Junction
Visiting Grand Junction is like stepping back in time and traveling during the early days of the Lincoln Highway. With an old gas station offering a look into the town’s past, a local community group honors that past with a memorial recognizing Iowa’s growth through the decades following the highway’s development.
Located on the outskirts of Grand Junction, the Lincoln Highway Interpretive Center consists of several limestone pillars recognizing the state’s population growth. Not far away, you can catch a view of an original US Highway 30 bridge, though it’s not used today.
Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower
With only 14 bells, the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower opened in downtown Jefferson in 1966. Today, 47 bells ring out tunes during the day. The town square also features a statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Tours of the tower are available, but need to be scheduled with the bell tower staff in advance.
Carroll Brewing Co.
Carroll once had a solid brewhouse in the 1880s. But, since then, the town has brought in its beer. Until Carroll Brewing opened its doors in 2017, starting a 20-barrel brewhouse in a refurbished downtown warehouse. Now, you can stop in at the taproom and enjoy a cold one from its 30 draft lines.
Donna Reed Museum
She starred opposite Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” headlined “The Donna Reed Show,” as well as several other movies and television appearances over a 45-year career. Donna Reed proudly called Denison home. And her hometown honors her memory at the Donna Reed Museum inside the Donna Reed Foundation for Performing Arts. Outside the downtown attraction, you’ll find handprints of celebrities who have visited the town.
With downtown Woodbine home to a blockslong sculpture walk, the public art extends to the local grain elevator. With a giant cornstalk rising on the rail side of the elevator, it provides a unique greeting to the small town in western Iowa. The corn stalk brightens the night with its illumination.
Harrison County Historic Village and Welcome Center
Where: Missouri Valley
With the words “Lincoln Highway” in large letters on a bluff overlooking it, Missouri Valley is home to the Harrison County Historic Village and Welcome Center. The Historic Village offers a glimpse into the area’s past through an old schoolhouse, blacksmith building, and house, among other vintage attractions.
The Welcome Center has a small museum with antique dolls, clothing, and tools, along with Native American artifacts, such as arrowheads. Outside, you will find a map of the United States with the Lincoln Highway displayed.
Built in 1913 and covering more than 3,000 miles, Iowa was one of the original 13 states (now 14 with rerouting over the years) included in the Lincoln Highway. Running from New York to San Francisco, US Highway 30 was America’s first “Main Street.” Other highways may gained more fame and popularity through the decades, but the Lincoln Highway has remained true to its mission, and Iowa embraces its story along the first transcontinental highway.