I'm slowly trying to drive every inch of US 20 from Boston, Massachusetts all the way out to Oregon. Mile by mile, town by town, state by state, this long ribbon of asphalt and concrete has much to offer along the way. In June 2019, I had the chance over a few days to visit a nice swath of US 20, both modern and historic, in Illinois and Iowa. Within Iowa, there are plenty of nice little things about the historic highway of US 20 to check out and find a slice of Americana along the way.
Before this trip, I had visited Iowa, but just barely. I had made a couple of trips across the Hawkeye State on I-80, a brief visit into the northern part of Iowa during a trip to Minnesota and also a drive along the Mississippi River from north of Dubuque down to the Quad Cities. So I used this trip to get to know Iowa a little better as well. During my trip, I also followed The 20 Tour list, which was compiled to be a scavenger hunt for neat things to find along my way.
Our story begins in Dubuque, where US 20 crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois on the Julien Dubuque Bridge, named for Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian trapper who was the first person of European descent to settle in what is now Iowa. Dubuque is a charming river city that also boasts the world's steepest incline railway, the Fenelon Place Elevator, which travels a length of 296 and 189 feet in height, giving you a bird's eye view of downtown Dubuque and the surrounding area of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Having been to incline railways in Western Pennsylvania, this was something I looked forward to seeing while I was in Iowa.
After getting in my scenic views of Dubuque, I proceeded to make my way west to Dyersville, which is home to the Field of Dreams movie site. Of course I stopped at the best known attraction in town and even saw a family playing a friendly game of baseball. Being that it was June, the iconic cornfield behind the ballfield was not in full bloom yet. But there is more to Dyersville than the Field of Dreams. The downtown business district has some nice architecture and the impressive Basilica of St. Francis Xavier. If your travels take you to Dyersville, make sure to poke around and see what the town has to offer.
After leaving Dyersville, I wanted to make time (and there was a passing storm coming) to my destination for the night, so I high tailed over to the modern four lane US 20 that traverses the state. I made it all the way out to Waterloo, although I did some backtracking to Independence the following day.
|I took a detour into Independence to see their train station and water tower.
|Back on modern US 20...
While modern day US 20 bypasses Waterloo and Cedar Falls to the south, the historic route went through both cities, and stayed to the north of the modern highway until you are west of Fort Dodge. Instead of staying on the modern highway, I checked out the downtowns of these cities and found some pleasant surprises.
|Downtown Waterloo once was home to a Wonder Bread bakery. The building is now a brewery, but they have kept the historical signage intact.
|A mural found in downtown Waterloo.
|Downtown Cedar Falls. I feasted upon a Maid-Rite sandwich while I was there.
Between Cedar Falls and out towards Iowa Falls, the historic alignment of US 20 followed IA 57. Along this highway, I was treated to a varied scenery that included rolling hills, farmland and some small towns with great character as well. I also spotted something along the way that reminded me of the town where I grew up.
|Cruising westward on IA 57.
|There are some nice looking barns along the way.
|Farms as far as the eyes can see.
|In Parkersburg, there is an Apache helicopter that is found at the city park. This particular helicopter saw service during the Vietnam War.
|As nice of a town as Parkersburg is, I must continue on my way.
|More farms, with some trees.
|One of the landmarks of the Iowa town of Ackley is this bull statue. I was particularly drawn to it, since the town where I grew up on Long Island also has a famous statue of a bull in town.
|Continue straight to travel to Iowa Falls.
|Downtown Iowa Falls.
|The famed Swinging Bridge of Iowa Falls.
|Which goes between a residential neighborhood...
|...and Assembly Park.
|River Street Bridge. Not on Historic US 20, but you can see that I visited during a period of high water.
|The last bridge I saw before leaving Iowa Falls is actually the bridge that US 65 (South Oak Street) takes to leave town.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I decided to stop in Webster City. What I found was a nice downtown business district with plenty of interesting buildings. I also found the end of the Dragoon Trail, which is a historic auto trail in Iowa. I also found a gas station that made me want to ramble on to myself in ValleySpeak for hours on end. What can I say, I was driving by my lonesome. I entertain myself in odd ways.
|No way! Yes way!
|The Fairmont Creamery Co.
|Webster City Post Office. There's an angel statue up front.
Now to go back onto modern US 20 for a bit around Fort Dodge and head on to our next stretch of Historic US 20 from there. That stretch I feel may be one of the more interesting sections of the old road. Going through locales like Rockwell City, Lytton, Sac City and Correctionville, you'll find a slice of Americana along Historic US 20.
|The business route into Fort Dodge.
|Turning off the four lane modern US 20 and heading to the old highway.
|Historic US 20 is a hodgepodge of county numbered highways in parts of western Iowa.
|Farmland around Moorland.
|Rockwell City, where the cattle haven't heard of social distancing. Heck, when I took this trip in 2019, I hadn't heard of social distancing either.
|But the cattle also have a nice view of this old arch bridge, which carried an even older alignment of Historic US 20.
|Old Pontiac sign in Rockwell City.
|Now in Sac County, Iowa, here is Lytton's US 20 mural.
|The endless farmland can be intoxicating at times, don't you think?
|An Historic US 20 sign.
|Downtown Sac City.
|Sac City, at what looks to be their rail buildings.
|Sac City Museum, which is a mostly open air museum. which has some interesting exhibits and even a small village.
|Not sure how dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut River Valley wound up at this small town in Iowa.
|But perhaps the most interesting thing in town is the World's Largest Popcorn Ball.
|Onto Early, which is at the junction of US 20 and US 71, or as they prefer, the Crossroads of the Nation.
|Rolling hills and farmland on Historic US 20 between Cushing and Correctionville.
|Welcome to Correctionville. Come jog down their main street. The town's curious name comes from a surveying adjustment.
|What appears to be an old Standard service station, now showing different examples of service.
|There's also an old art deco service station in Correctionville which is worth exploring.
|I like seeing old Rexall drug store signs, so this was a treat.
|Correctionville has some old military aircraft to see, much like a town I passed by earlier, Parkersburg.
|Correctionville's Freedom Rock.
|Modern, attractive concrete pavement on a smooth, modern US 20 westbound.
|Farmland and rolling hills stretching for miles.
|US 20 runs concurrent with US 75 around Sioux City. However, Business US 20 runs through Sioux City.
Sources and Links:
Historic US Route 20 - Iowa