Considered a key link between Chicago and Omaha during its development, Iowa’s portion of US Highway 30 -- aka Lincoln Highway -- covers more than 300 miles in the central section of the state, running from the Mississippi River westward to the Missouri River. In-between, several historical and cultural attractions dot Iowa’s Lincoln Highway, creating a fun-filled day trip or a weekend trek.
Here’s a look at 14 communities offering fantastic looks at early life along the Lincoln Highway.
Explore Clinton’s historic role in the lumber industry during a visit to the Sawmill Museum, which includes exhibits reliving the history, such as an authentic lumber saw and animatronic lumber barons sharing their tales of the lumber transported downriver from Wisconsin to the eastern Iowa city. Nature enthusiasts enjoy visiting Bickelhaupt Arboretum, a 14-acre botanical garden featuring flowers, shrubs, plants, and trees. The scenic gardens include daffodils, lilies, peonies, and roses, as well as a rock exhibit. Enjoy majestic views of the Mississippi River valley while you enjoy a tasting menu or dinner at Wide River Winery. Tour the grounds and learn about the wine-making process at the award-winning vineyard and winery.
Enjoy a trip to Germany without leaving Iowa! DeWitt is home to the German Hausbarn Museum. The authentic German barn, built in 1727, was disassembled and reassembled in 2008. The museum features household items, tools, books, and more, honoring the immigration of Schelswig-Holstein Germans. While in town, visit the historical marker recognizing the intersection of the Lincoln Highway and Blues Highway.
3. Mt. Vernon
Located on the south side of US Highway 30, about 4 miles west of Mt. Vernon, you can see a larger-than-life version of American Gothic, the world-famous painting of famers by Iowa artist Grant Wood. Painted on the side of a barn, the classic artwork is a must when traveling in the area.
4. Cedar Rapids
History, culture, and nature highlight your visit to Cedar Rapids. The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library offers a tour through the history of Czech and Slovak migrants to Iowa. With their stories told through exhibits featuring clothes, artifacts, and memorabilia, the museum offers a look at the Eastern Europeans’ customs and traditions. The African American Museum of Iowa explores the history of African Americans in the state from slavery through the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights movement. Art aficionados enjoy exploring the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, featuring Roman busts, as well as the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood art. Wood’s studio is located a few blocks from the museum. Nature lovers trek various trails, ranging from the 12-mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail to the 1.6-mile Cedar Lake Trail Loop. For unique shopping experiences, stop by Newbo City Market, a community-focused marketplace designed to help business start-ups.
Stop in Tama for a photo opp at the historic Lincoln Highway bridge. Built in 1914, the bridge was named on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The words Lincoln Highway are carved into the side of the bridge, which spans more than 20 feet over Mud Creek.
Offering a view of the Marshalltown skyline and Linn Creek valley, the Mildred Hach Grimes Memorial Observation Tower stands 30 feet above the ground. Located near the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center, the tower is part of the nature center’s focus on sharing nature with locals. The farm includes hiking trails to forests, wetlands, and crop fields. For a look into Victorian-era houses, visit the Glick-Sower Homestead, which was built in 1859.
Home to the Elwood, who at 15 feet is the world’s tallest concrete gnome, Reiman Gardens combines outdoor gardens with indoor attractions to create one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the Midwest. Getting its start as a horticulture garden at Iowa State University, Reiman Gardens features 17 acres of floral and plant gardens, as well as a beautiful butterfly wing, with up to 800 butterflies flittering daily. Besides its magnificent flower and shrub gardens, Reiman hosts a variety of special exhibits throughout the year. Featuring classic, contemporary, and pop culture art, the Anderson Sculpture Garden envelops historic Morrill Hall on the ISU campus. The Ames History Museum explores the area’s history through a variety of exhibits. You’ll learn about the life of George Washington Carver, the first African American to attend Ames College. Carver is known for more than 300 inventions involving sweet potatoes and peanuts including flour, cooking oils, and paper. While in Ames, check out local shops such as Acorn Antiques and Consignments, home to vintage furniture, dishes, and home accessories. If you’re looking for unique gifts and souvenirs, visit Worldly Goods, which offers Fair Trade products such as coffee, chocolates, Kenyan stone sculptures, clothes, and jewelry.
You may want to plan an overnight excursion to Boone. Running seasonally, from spring to fall, the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad offers a day of fun. Reserve a seat on the classic excursion train ride, which takes you to the mining town of Fraser. You’ll enjoy your ride in a 1920s passenger car. If you crave a meal with your train ride, consider reserving a table on the Wolf Dinner Train, featuring an elegant dinner aboard a 1950s passenger car, as you take a 2-hour tour along the Des Moines River valley. You can also reserve a lunch train tour or a picnic tour (you bring your own food). During your visit to the railroad, check out the James H. Andrew Museum, which celebrates Iowa’s railroad history through a series of exhibits. Former First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower was born and raised in Boone. Her childhood home -- Mamie Doud Eisenhower Birthplace -- is open for tours. The First Lady often visited Boone up until two years before she died in 1979.
9. Grand Junction
On the northeastern side of town, visit the Lincoln Highway interpretive site, which recognizes Iowa’s growth over the years. Nearby is an aged bridge from the original Lincoln Highway. You can also visit a former Mobil gas station once used by highway travelers.
With a population of more than 4,300, Jefferson is home to the musical sounds of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower. Standing almost 170 feet tall, the tower features 47 bells and six floodlights. An observation deck is located about 120 feet above the ground. Dedicated in the mid-1960s, the bell tower has been the center of the town since. Celebrate the first Iowa woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics with a visit to the Doreen Wilber Olympic Plaza. Wilber won the gold medal in archery at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
If you’re looking for a unique gift, then Carroll Design and Salvage may be the place for you. Between handcrafted goods, including home décor and yard accessories, to vintage items, Carroll Design and Salvage is a must-see in Carroll. If you prefer craft beer or locally grown wine, stop at Carroll Brewing Company and Santa Maria Vineyard and Winery. As the first brewery in Carroll since the 1880s, Carroll Brewing Company is a 20-barrel craft brewery that produces at least five flavors at a time. Located in a classic brick building, the brewery also has a 100-person taproom on site. Santa Maria Vineyard and Winery is an award-winning downtown winery with decor that takes you to Tuscany in Italy.
As the hometown of actress Donna Reed, you’ll be transported in time to Bedford Falls, the site of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. The actress may be best known for her role as Mary in the movie, but she won the Academy Award for supporting actress for her role in From Here to Eternity. Denison honors its native daughter with the Donna Reed Performing Arts Center, with memorabilia and artifacts of her life and career. Walk around downtown and you’ll find handprints of Hollywood stars and celebrities who have visited the city.
You may not think a town of about 1,500 people would be a center for art, but rural life is celebrated through public art that has included a giant cornstalk on a grain elevator as well as sculptures along the brick-laid main street. A California artist even created a work of art in a cornfield between Woodbine and Dunlap when he placed a cutout of a girl standing more than 15 feet tall with her pet dalmatian.
14. Missouri Valley
Proudly declaring its place along the Lincoln Highway, Missouri Valley welcomes visitors with a giant art piece atop a hill overlooking US Highway 30 at the Harrison County Historical Village Welcome Center. You can trace the route of the Lincoln Highway, from New York to San Francisco, as an outdoor map showcases the 13 states that comprise America’s first transcontinental highway. The visitor center includes artifacts related to the highway’s story. You can also learn about the west Iowa community’s history by visiting the onsite living history town. With a schoolhouse, blacksmith, general store, and house, you can find vintage farm equipment, Native American artifacts, clothing, and household wares.
Open seasonally, the Wisecup Farm Museum seeks to share the area’s farm history through its exhibits featuring more than 100 antique implements and replicas of buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s. Its barns house several displays, such as household items and farm tools.