Exploring the Lincoln Highway, Cedar Valley Roads
& the Amana Colonies
Out of the Mud
On September 14, 1913, following months of publicity and speculation, the Lincoln Highway Association announced the official route of the nation’s first transcontinental highway, to extend from New York City to San Francisco. The idea had originated with Carl Fisher, founder of the Prest-O-Lite Company, which manufactured carbide headlights for automobiles.
Fisher had also launched the hugely popular Indianapolis 500 at his brick-paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911. In 1912, there were approximately one million motor vehicles registered in America—up from only 8,000 in 1900—but few improved roads. Of the 2.5 million miles of roadway existing throughout the country, the vast majority were dirt roads that were often impassable when wet. Experiments with concrete as a road material had only recently begun, with the first mile of concrete road poured in 1908, near Detroit. Long-distance travel by car was still very much a novelty. Doing so definitely required a taste for adventure.
The objective of the so-called “Seedling Mile” was to demonstrate the benefits of paving the nation’s roadways. The Lincoln Highway Association would persuade nearby communities to build their own demonstration sections of Lincoln Highway, aka “seedling miles”.
To that end, the LHA required these paved miles be located out in the rural countryside, at least six miles from any town, at places where the topography made road travel difficult. The idea was that once a driver was on the paved mile and could speed along unfettered and then suddenly dropped back onto an unpaved, often mud, road, that the drama of this contrast would demonstrate better than any other means the wisdom of paved roads.
Abbe Creek School
Abbe Creek School was first organized in 1844 by pioneer homesteaders as a log school. In pioneer times the school served as the center of community life. It served as a school weekdays and a church on Sundays. Occasionally, a circuit reading preacher from Dubuque would hold services. Once or twice a month the local residents brought their families to sing and practice spelling in the one room school. Attendance at the school was not required. The farm work came first and in the time left over, the children went to school. Children started to attend school when they were four and rarely finished the full eight grades.
Records indicate that the present schoolhouse was built in 1856 of soft brick. The building measures 20 by 26 feet and originally faced north. Behind it lay the community cemetery called Sugar Grove, where many early residents, including the first wife of William Abbe and Zimri Davis (1783-1856) and his wife (a daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran) are buried. Two Civil War veterans, Morris Burnett and George Thompson are also buried there. Many graves date from the 1850s, the earliest visible date is 1847.
With the grading and paving of the Lincoln Highway in 1925, the school was moved to face the east and the cemetery was isolated from it by the road. A Lincoln Highway marker still stands on the school grounds. The doors of Abbe Creek School closed in 1936 after serving the community 92 years. The building was later converted into a private home. The school and yard were purchased by the county conservation commission in 1963 and in 1964 the restored schoolhouse was dedicated as a museum.
Cornell College & King Chapel
Cornell College is a private liberal arts college originally called the Iowa Conference Seminary. It was founded in 1853 by Reverend Samuel M. Fellows. Four years later, in 1857, the name was changed to Cornell College, in honor of iron tycoon William Wesley Cornell, who was a distant relative of Ezra Cornell (founder of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York). From its inception, Cornell has accepted women into all degree programs. In 1858, Cornell was host to Iowa’s first female recipient of a baccalaureate degree, Mary Fellows, a member of the first graduating class from Cornell College. She received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 1871, Harriette J. Cooke became the first female college professor in the United States to become a full professor with a salary equal to that of her male colleagues.
Cornell students study one course at a time (commonly referred to as “the block plan”. Since 1978, school years have been divided into “blocks” of three-and-a-half weeks each (usually followed by a four-day “block break” to round out to four weeks), during which students are enrolled in a single class. What would normally be covered in a full semester’s worth of class at a typical university is covered in just seventeen-and-one-half Cornell class days. While schedules vary from class to class, most courses consist of around 30 hours of lecture, along with additional time spent in the laboratory, studying audio-visual media, or other activities.
King Chapel is up the hill on the right. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976 and is built of dolomitic limestone quarried locally. The main tower, with its Seth Thomas clock, is almost 130 feet high and can be seen from miles away as it shoots up from the hilltop campus.
The building seemed doomed at the start. The cornerstone was laid in 1876, but one month later, with the walls half up, the contractor went bankrupt and skipped town, leaving the college with a pile of liens. The financial burden was almost the end of Cornell, and the college had to be mortgaged to pay off the bills. The faculty contributed a fourth of their pay to help out and by 1882 the college was free of debt and ready to finish the building.
The main auditorium, which seats up to 800 people, was first used in 1882. This is where students got together for chapel every day when that was required. It’s where Cornellians and the public gather for Music Mondays concerts and lectures. The auditorium has a Moller organ with 3,800 pipes. In 1940 the Chapel was named the “William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel” in memory of the man who served as Cornell’s president from 1863-1908.
Travel across Iowa’s terrain was difficult at best in the early 1800s. The only “roads” were paths worn by oxen drawn wagons. Roads became a necessity in Eastern Iowa in the 1830’s when the area began to see a steady population expansion. Congress recognized the need for roads but some members were reluctant. The supporters of the federal road program discovered that they could win over the opposition by designating their proposals as “military roads” to aide soldiers in transportation of supplies. In 1839, legislation was passed for Iowa’s first federal military road from the mining and river town of Dubuque to the Territorial Capitol in Iowa City.
As soon the legislation passed, Lyman Dillon of Cascade, Iowa was hired to plow a furrow along the surveyed route between Dubuque and Iowa City which would guide the pioneer settlers until the road could be completed and eventually guide the contractors in the road construction.
Lyman began his work in the fall of 1839. He used a team of 10 oxen and a large sod breaking plow. Dillon was paid $3 a mile to plow the 86-mile furrow. His provisions were carried in a covered wagon drawn by two horses. The furrow is mostly under the route of present day Highway 1. Although the military never made formal use of the “Military Road, the road was very important to the expansion of the Eastern Iowa areas and to the survival of the towns that were located along its path.
John Brown & the Underground Railroad
On a fine October day in 1856 a traveler on mule back, and leading a horse, entered the little Quaker village of West Branch, Cedar County, Iowa, and halted at the tavern “Traveler’s Rest”. James Townsend, a worthy Quaker, was tavern keeper. He came to the door to welcome the guest. The stranger, instead of giving his name outright, as he stiffly dismounted, said: “Sir, have you heard of John Brown, of Kansas?”Certainly Townsend had. All the Quakers had. Nearly everybody in the country had. Brown had a plan to lead a company of well-drilled men into Kansas against the “border ruffians”, and free the Territory from the rule of slavery. Brown enlisted a number of followers, who came from Kansas and after a hard trip across the prairies reached Springdale, Cedar County, the last of December.
Springdale was a Quaker settlement not far from West Branch. In 1857 it was a thriving, peaceful little place. It had been recommended to Brown during his previous stop at West Branch. He had intended to stay at Springdale only a few days. Money was scarce. He decided to spend the winter among the Quakers of Iowa.
John Brown was housed at the residence of John H. Painter, a kind, hospitable Quaker, and one of the funders of the settlement. The rest of the band had quarters at the dwelling of William Maxon, about three miles north of the village. Maxon was not a Quaker, but it was thought best to avert suspicion, as much as possible, from the sect. The Maxon cellar, it will be remembered, was a hiding place for fugitive slaves.
John Brown and his men remained in Springdale until spring. They drilled, indulged in athletic exercises calculated to make them quick and strong, and studied tactics. Evenings they held debates, mock legislatures, and other programs of amusements and instruction. They also made calls. The eldest in the party was only thirty, the youngest was eighteen. They were engaged in a dangerous and romantic life. So it is no wonder that love sprang up between several of the visitors and the pretty Quaker maidens. Springdale people not in the secret thought their guests were preparing to return to the Kansas conflict.
With tears and heartfelt farewells the Quakers saw the Brown conspirators depart. Before going, the members of the party wrote their names on the white wall of the Maxon parlor. For many years, even after the building was a deserted ruin, the writing could still be deciphered. Two new recruits, George B. Gill and Steward Taylor, of Springdale, accompanied the expedition. Edwin and Barclay Coppoc, sons of one of the oldest Quaker residents, Ann Coppoc, enlisted, but did not at this time take their leave.
Thus John Brown went away from Springdale, but he would return. He had been back to Kansas, and at Christmas-time, 1858, a slave by the name of Jim slipped over the Missouri border to Brown’s camp, and implored his aid. Jim said himself and some fellow slaves were about to be torn from their families and sold south. They wanted to escape. Following the “Underground Railroad”, the company reached Grinnell, February 20. In five days all were at Springdale, with a United States Marshal hot on the scent. Early in March the Negros were hurried across the country to West Liberty and loaded into a rail car.
When the passenger train from the west came in, the freight car, with Brown and the Negroes locked inside, was coupled on. Away the slaves were whirled to liberty, for in a short time they had crossed the border at Detroit into Canada.
In September, 1859 John Brown was last seen in Iowa. There are reports of a visit by him to his former haunts in Cedar County. Before this, Edwin and Barclay Coppoc, awaiting word at Springdale, had received their summons and had gone. In July Brown had written them from the East, telling them to join him at once. Then, in the middle of October, came the news to Springdale that a crazy old man — so the paper styled him — with twenty followers, had attacked the Government arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, and had defied the troops. The story of John Brown’s rash deed, of his defeat and capture, is well known in history. Of the Iowa men who enlisted at Springdale, Taylor was shot and killed; Edwin Coppoc was captured and hanged; Gill was not present at the conflict; Barclay Coppoc escaped, and after an exciting flight over the mountains of Maryland and Pennsylvania, arrived home in Springdale December 17. One night, in disguise, he made his way out of the state and reached Canada.
William Maxson’s home, where Brown’s men were quartered, was razed in 1938, but its location is marked by a plaque.
West Branch was laid out in 1869 by Joseph Steer. It was incorporated in 1875. The city was first settled chiefly by Quakers from Ohio. Its name is derived from the meeting place of the West Branch Quakers and the location of the city on the west branch of the Wapsinonoc Creek.
Before the American Civil War, areas in and around West Branch were stops of the Underground Railroad. In 2008, archaeologists found evidence of unmarked graves in nearby North Liberty Cemetery while investigating an account of 17 escaped slaves who died before reaching Canada.
West Branch experienced rapid growth after the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway was built through it. President Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch in 1874. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum was dedicated here by Hoover and his close friend, President Harry Truman, in 1962.
The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which includes the Library-Museum, the Hoover Birthplace Cottage and the gravesites of President and Lou Henry Hoover, was authorized by Congress on August 12, 1965.
The National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS)
The National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) is the most sophisticated research driving simulator in the world. Developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NADS offers high-fidelity, real-time driving simulation. It consists of a large dome in which entire cars and the cabs of trucks and buses can be mounted. The vehicle cabs are equipped electronically and mechanically using instrumentation specific to their make and model. At the same time, the motion system, on which the dome is mounted, will provide 400 square meters of horizontal and longitudinal travel and nearly 360 degrees of rotation in either direction. The effect will be that the driver will feel acceleration, braking and steering cues as if he or she were actually driving a real car, truck or bus.
The Amana Colony
The Amana Colony comprises seven villages on 26,000 acres: Amana (or Main Amana), East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The villages were built and settled by German Pietists, who were persecuted in their homeland by the German state government and the Lutheran Church. Calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration, they first settled in New York near Buffalo in what is now the Town of West Seneca. However, seeking more isolated surroundings, they moved to Iowa in 1856. They lived a communal life until the mid-1930s.
For eighty years, the Amana Colony maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy, importing very little from the industrializing American economy. They were able to achieve this independence and lifestyle by adhering to the specialized crafting and farming occupations that they had brought with them from Europe. Craftsmen passed their skills and techniques on from one generation to the next. They used hand, horse, wind, and water power, and made their own furniture, clothes, and other goods. The community voted to form a for-profit organization during the Great Depression, the Amana Society, which included the Amana Corporation.
Today, the Seven Villages of Amana are a tourist attraction known for its restaurants and craft shops and was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.