COLO, Iowa — The Lincoln Highway was an idea hatched by auto industry leaders and began in 1913.
The idea was to have a paved road from the East coast, 3300 miles to the West coast. The road passed through Iowa along what is now known as Highway 30.
The first road set out to reach towns like Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, Ames, Jefferson and all the way to Council Bluffs – over 300 miles. The road followed what is now the Union Pacific Railroad.
Also along the way, a number of unique restaurants sprang up, along with cabins for travelers to stay in overnight. Early cars did not have very good lights, so traveling at night was not common.
One of the places people stopped was Cedar Rapids’ Lighthouse Inn. It drew locals and even some people who were notable.
“Al Capone had a rule when things got a little hot in Chicago he would take off for parts unknown, but the main criteria it had to be out out and had be a Paved Road,” said Theron Manson, the former owner of the Lighthouse. “He left the car here abandoned, and the Cedar Rapids Police Department came out and there’s a machine gun in the trunk.”
The gun was displayed at one time in a city display case. Capone was not the only famous lawbreaker to stop in at the Lighthouse.
“John Dillinger laid his gun on the table and it went off the bullet hole, went through the wall and walls and there was no insulation,” said Manson.
Now, the Lighthouse just offers the traditional supper club experience, with live music on Saturday nights. They serve up ribs, and prime rib. One recent Saturday night the place was packed.
The paved road wound through Mount Vernon, where you can still check out the shops, and cruise past Cornell College. West of town is Abbe Creek School Museum, a collection of local history there.
If you head east to Lowden, the Lincoln Hotel still is accepting travelers like it did during the early days of the Lincoln Highway. There is a stretch of the road where people can hike across an original Pony Truss style bridge which was built across Calumus Creek in 1921. There is also a stretch of road which you can drive for around a quarter of a mile. That area is off Highway 30 between Calumus, and Wheatland.
Back into Cedar Rapids, the Lincoln Highway winds through the Czech Village and shops, home of the Czech and Slovak Museum.
West of Cedar Rapids is the Ced-Rel Supper Club. This eatery is now closed after it was damaged during the derecho in 2020. This is one of several old-style eating spots, which have closed of late. Also King Tower in Tama has closed after traffic was diverted when a Highway 30 by-pass opened. Also, in western Iowa, Cronks in Denison closed after the owners wanted to step down.
The Lincoln Highway Restaurant is still going strong in the Benton County Town of Belle Plain.
“Our beer-batter chicken is actually pretty famous,” said Jimmy Limani, owner of the Lincoln. “We have it twice a week for a special, people really like that and that all-you-can-eat walleye.
Also in Tama, is the 1914 Lincoln Highway Bridge. It had the “Lincoln Highway” built right into the railings as a tourist attraction. People are still stopping for pictures.
West into Marshalltown, Taylor’s Maidrite opened in 1928. It was located on Highway 14 close to the Lincoln Highway. It moved to its current location in 1958. The counter in the cafe now, is the same one installed in 1958. Taylor’s serves a loose meat sandwich called a Maidrite. It comes either wet, or dry, depending on how much grease you want in there.
Near Colo is a very unique Lincoln Highway stop. It has an old-style gas station museum, and Niland’s Cafe, where food is still served Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“Love the people that we know that come in and the people we meet,” said Abi Wilson, Niland Cafe. “A lot of people come in point out pictures and say that was their aunt or grandma in the picture on the wall, we’ve had a lot of the Niland Family come in, that’s been fun to meet them.”
Niland Cafe features hand-breaded tenderloin, and home-made pies.
If you would like to know more about a trip on the Lincoln Highway check Travel Iowa’s list of things to see. If you’d like to know more about the Lincoln Highway History, check the Iowa Lincoln Highway website.