Jefferson Highway takes center stage as filmmakers and author travel the historic route

Marlys BarkerNevada
Journal Editor
Jefferson Highway takes center stage as filmmakers and author travel the historic route

The Nevada Commercial Club entertained with an oyster supper to celebrate the occasion of another major highway coming through Nevada. Just a couple years after the Lincoln Highway was established from east to west, the Jefferson Highway, in 1915, was being formed to travel through Nevada along its north to south route.

Lyell Henry of Iowa City, who was in Nevada last week, just finished writing his book, “The Jefferson Highway Blazing the Way from Winnipeg to New Orleans.” Henry was traveling through Nevada with two men who are making a documentary of the Jefferson Highway, Darrell Johnston of Leon and Josiah Laubenstein of Phoenix, Ariz. The three were being hosted during their time in Story County by Colo resident Scott Berka, who is treasurer of the Jefferson Highway Association.

Berka said the communities of Colo and Nevada and the highway in between was a “pretty rare spot,” in that it is the only span of highway where the original Jefferson Highway and the original Lincoln Highway merged for several miles.

Henry said Nevada was so excited about the fact that the Jefferson Highway would also come through town, that it was planning ways to capitalize on it. Somewhere along the way, Henry said, Nevada lost interest in the Jefferson Highway and focused much more on being along the Lincoln Highway.

“I want people to know,” Henry said, “that there was more than one big highway” that came through Nevada in the mid-1910s.

Henry’s book shares the history of the Jefferson Highway and the great tidbits of information he gleaned from various communities along the route. It devotes one entire chapter to Edwin T. Meredith, who was the founder of the Jefferson Highway. Thus the documentary being filmed by Johnston and Laubenstein, which they say is being funded by the Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. Edwin T. Meredith was Mell Meredith’s great-grandfather. Mell is a current director of the Meredith Corporation.

As part of their documentary, Johnston and Laubenstein are stopping in many of the cities along the original Jefferson Highway to have mayors of those communities read and sign a proclamation that supports increasing awareness of the Jefferson Highway, the “first international highway traversing the United States from north to south through the Mississippi Valley,” the proclamation reads.

The proclamation also points out that there is currently a campaign to secure markings by the Iowa DOT of the Jefferson Highway route in Iowa as a heritage byway. Berka is hopeful that it won’t be long before Jefferson Highway Byway heritage signs will be ready to put right beside the Lincoln Highway Byway heritage signs.

While in Story County, the filmmakers and author were able to enjoy time at the historic Niland Corner motel and cafe in Colo. They had a signing with the mayor there of the proclamation and enjoyed homemade gooseberry pie at the cafe, Laubenstein said, before heading to Nevada, where they met with Mayor Lynn Lathrop in front of Nevada City Hall.

They left from Nevada to head to Ames for a mayoral signing there. Berka explained that Ames wasn’t along the original Jefferson Highway, but eventually, because roads changed and different routes became more prominent, the Jefferson Highway did continue from Nevada to Ames along the Lincoln Highway and then turned south on Highway 69. Prior to that, it turned south in Nevada, going down through Shipley and Elkhart before arriving in Des Moines.

One of the fun things about this undertaking for Johnston, he said, is that he is traveling the Jefferson Highway (where they started in Winnipeg on May 6) in a 1954 Dodge Royal that belongs to his uncle. “It was my great-grandmother’s car, and she drove it from Leon to Park Rapids, Minn., along the Jefferson Highway, for many years,” he said. His great-grandparents had a cabin up north back in the day, so many trips were made back and forth. Now, he found it quite symbolic to be driving that car along that route again.

This is the third film for Johnston and Laubenstein, who are with Highway Walkers Media. Eventually, Johnston said they hope to backtrack and do some brief screenings of people they met along this trip. Then they plan to make their DVD of the documentary available for purchase. They will also pitch the documentary to various networks.

To follow their journey, people can find “Highway Walkers Media” on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram.