Our Town Tama-Toledo: Preserving the Lincoln Highway bridge

Published: Jun. 18, 2018 at 8:34 PM CDT
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All Summer, KCRG-TV9 will be visiting towns across eastern Iowa to showcase what makes them unique places to live, work and play as part of the KCRG-TV9 Our Town series.

In Our Town Tama-Toledo, there is a group of devoted people who refuses to lose a piece of history. It's not just relevant to people in this community, but something that's part of U.S. history. And it's at risk of disappearing

"There are thousands of little town that the Lincoln Highway goes through and we want our town to be special, we want it to be remembered. So they collected money and they put in the lettering," said Anne Michael of the Tama County Historic Preservation Commission.

The people of Tama chipped in to add distinctive lettering spelling out Lincoln Highway. The bridge's construction started in 1915, and it's the only one left in the country.

The Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama is a one-of-a-kind in the U.S. But if you come along the side of the brass plate attached to the bridge, you see it has another connection to Iowa. The contractor who built it, Paul Kingsley, is from Strawberry Point.

Even its place on the national registry of historic places can't protect it from the reality of age and the weight of commerce.

"It (the Lincoln Highway) went through Belle Plaine, Montour, and we have truck traffic going over it that hurts the bridge that is classified as structurally unsound. So we need to take care of that first," said Byron Witt, a volunteer trying to save the bridge.

The Lincoln Highway Bridge won't last many more years, especially with heavy truck traffic. The state has suggested tearing it out in favor of a modern bridge.

"A bridge this age is usually replaced by a bigger bridge or a newer bridge, which we don't want, because we want to save the cut out letters," said Jan Gammon of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.

But losing the last of its kind isn't an option for the fervent Lincoln Highway Bridge supporters.

"Trying to make this community effort to take care of this and making them aware of what they've got right here in Tama," said Colleen Davis with the Lincoln Highway Bridge Park.

They've created a park adjacent to the bridge, with a place to picnic, relax, and read about the first paved roadway to stretch across the country.

"There's a lot of shade, it's comfortable, they like it there, it's a plus for the community," Michael said.

The unique bridge is also a draw for tourists beyond the U.S. Davis remembers a couple from Norway who stopped in Tama.

"They flew to New York, rented two cars, that was their dream, to travel the Lincoln Highway across the U.S.," Davis said.

While waiting for a decision on the bridge, these preservationists continue to spruce up the park, hold fundraisers, and promote the Lincoln Highway Bridge to those who could determine its future.

Each spring the town holds a Lincoln Highway Bridge Festival and 5-K.

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