Historic Auto Trails


Social runs

As automobile ownership became more common, automobile associations, such as the Jefferson Highway Association, formed to promote automobile use and the needs of drivers for good roads.

These associations organized and hosted sociability runs/tours, which were primarily taken to bring distant communities closer together. They also afforded auto owners an opportunity to drive to see what at that time were considered “novel” places.

Two notable social runs traversed the approximately 2,300-mile distance of the Jefferson Highway. The first occurred in July 1919. Participants traveled from New Orleans north to Winnipeg, Canada. The tour was organized by J. D. Clarkson, the general manager of the Jefferson Highway Association, and was called the “Palm to Pine Sociability Run” in honor of the designated starting and finishing points of the run.

Pine to Palm The Palm to Pine Sociability Run got underway July 1, 1919. The touring party was headed by J. D. Clarkson and his wife. Forty-two people started out in New Orleans, including Governor of Louisiana R. G. Pleasant. Also participating in the tour were: Manitoba’s Attorney General Thomas H. Johnson; Mayor of New Orleans Martin Behrman; Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana J. M. W. Ford; Louisiana State Highway Commissioner Duncan Buie; Vice-president of the Louisiana Jefferson Highway Association R. A. Nibert; Vice-president of the Minnesota Jefferson Highway Association J. H. Beek; and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Automobile Association A. G. Batchelder of New York.

Communities along the touring route were urged to host celebrations in honor of the motorists. They were also encouraged to send motorists to meet the touring party before entering a community. Newspapers along the route featured stories about the tour and community events organized in their honor.

The touring party had a strict schedule it was trying to keep, but by July 9, 1919, the local newspapers were reporting that, due to heavy rains in the southern United States, the sociability run would be delayed a day. This caused a number of communities along the route to cancel their celebrations.

R. B. Millard, a Little Falls, Minn. native who was serving as the state secretary for the Minnesota Jefferson Highway Association, published the following statement in the Daily Transcript on June 25, 1919: “We should make the afternoon a holiday in Little Falls. It has been suggested that all business houses along the line decorate with flags and bunting to welcome the tourists.”

The next major sociability run for the Jefferson Highway Association began Feb. 4, 1926, in the dead of winter. The cavalcade of 132 people in 32 cars, most of them from Winnipeg, completed the 13-day trip from Winnipeg to New Orleans to celebrate completion of the highway. The visitors saluted the granite obelisk erected in 1917 that marked the southern terminus of the route.

Nov. 9, 2009 — Jefferson Highway enthusiast and historian Mike Conlin of Metairie, La., retraced the entire route in what he has called a "Reawakening of an International Treasure" and mapping expedition. Read full article.

Route history recalled

Brief Road Trip An October 22, 1995, a series of articles were published by the Mason City Globe Gazette, titled “Take a Brief Road Trip with Us, Now, Back to North Iowa in the 1920s, 30s and 40s,” and written by Kristin Buehner. These articles offer details about the building and navigating of the Jefferson Highway in northern Iowa, and how the highway gave birth to the Jefferson Highway Transportation Company, now Jefferson Lines.

Highway gave birth to the Jefferson bus line

The Jefferson Highway Transportation Company was formed September 1919 in Minneapolis by Emery L. Bryant and Ivan D. Ansell. It was named after the Jefferson Highway and followed its route. The first Jefferson bus line ran from Minneapolis to Osseo, Minn.

By the time of the Great Depression, a significant portion of the Jefferson Highway Transportation Company’s business had become concentrated in Iowa. In June 1927, the Jefferson line included Mason City, Charles City, Decorah, Independence, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo. Connections to Garner, Ames, Des Moines, and Kansas City were established in 1929.

Charlie Zelle, grandson of Edgar Zelle who purchased the Jefferson bus line in 1925, said in the 1995 Globe Gazette article, “Iowa’s always been our core business. Iowa is very central for Minnesota and points south.”

When this article was published in 1995, the Jefferson Line ran from Minnesota to Texas through 10 states.

Remnants of the Jefferson Highway in Iowa

Today, travelers can still see remnants of the historic Interstate Trail and Jefferson Highway in Iowa, including many gas station buildings strewn along the route that have been abandoned or converted to other uses.

One Stop Complex One of the historic features along the route, which is being preserved through an Iowa Department of Transportation enhancement grant, is the Reed-Niland “one-stop” complex at Colo. It was originally named the L and J Station because it was located at the junction of the Lincoln Highway and Jefferson Highway. The filling station, tourist cabins and restaurant are partially restored and open to the public.

Other remnants along the route include the tourist courts. One such court is located in Iowa Falls. The Scenic Inn, now a motel north of town, is still recognizable as the descendant of a one-stop begun in 1929 as the Scenic City Kabin Kamp. All but two of the cabins have been replaced with standard motel structures, and the building that once housed the gas station and restaurant is now rented out.

Another tourist court, located in Northwood, is the Royal Motel, which was advertised as being “Fit for a King.”

Another treasure along the former Jefferson Highway is the abandoned Hotel Manly in Manly, Iowa.


In conclusion, the Jefferson Highway Association shall be remembered in Iowa’s transportation history books for: the pioneering of the good roads movement in the Mississippi Valley; linking communities, county seats, state capitals, industrial and population centers; opening up the avenues of travel, bringing a closer relationship between town and country, communities, and neighboring states; and establishing international goodwill between the U.S. and Canada.

In the words of Hugh Shepard, “The closer association of communities and individuals, both neighboring and distant, causes sectional lines to be obliterated and doubts and mistrust to be banished. In this work of promoting peace and good will, the building of good road and the establishment of trunk lines and international highways has played an important part.”

Sources and Links

  • Lyell Henry, "Along the Jefferson Highway", Lincoln Highway Association Newsletter, Along the Lincoln Highway.
  • Mary Warner, "Jefferson Highway", Morrison County (Minnesota) Historical Society online. 2001.
  • Timeline of Jefferson Highway in Cass County (Missouri) Democrat, compiled by Carol Bohl, 2003.
  • The Jefferson Highway Association, Crawford County Division, Records, 1915-2005, contain items such as correspondence, minutes, maps, newspaper clippings and other related items to the Jefferson Highway, are housed at the Leonard H. Axe Library, and of the Kansas Technology Center Library - Pittsburg (KS) State University, http://axelibrary.blogspot.com/2007/02/jefferson-highway-association-crawford.html
  • A mural to commemorate the Jefferson Highway was installed Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007, on a building owned by Shelton and Sons Construction at 1201 N. Independence in Harrisonville, Missouri, which was on the route of the original Jefferson Highway. The mural was created on two aluminum panels by area artist Daniel Brewer. The 8’ x 12’ panel depicts the front of a Jefferson Highway tourist guide from the early 1920s, while the 4’ x 8’ panel is a map of the route of the highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Canada.
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