Written By Joe Goodlove, Cedar County Consul
The Lincoln Hotel in Lowden, Iowa celebrates its 100th birthday this year. A Lincoln Highway gem featured in Brian Butko’s Greetings from the Lincoln Highway and Drake Hokanson’s The Lincoln Highway Main Street across America has served travelers on the Lincoln Highway since Celia Daehn Clemmens opened for business on June 17th, 1915. On that day guests paid $2.00 per day for a room and could enjoy a steak dinner for 75 cents. The contemporary prairiesque architecture gave the hotel a modern twist at the time. The electric lights, steam heat, and the bathroom with running water provided comforts not always available to travelers in 1915. The Lincoln Hotel was the only lodging between Clinton and Cedar Rapids when it was built and Celia enjoyed a brisk business, servicing both the rail and highway travelers.
The hotel stood in witness of the progress of the Lincoln Highway. The highway was originally a dirt road. On April 27th, 1917 paving began in Lowden and was complete through Cedar County on October 27th of that year. On September 7th, 1925 the Lowden City Council ordered all hitching posts on the streets of the business district be removed within 30 days. Autocross guests first purchased buckets of gasoline at the livery stable on the north side of the hotel. Later gasoline became available at the general store and in the early 20’s the Hawkeye Filling Station opened. On August 14th, 1925 the Freund Garage was making improvements and a new gas tank and pump were added along with the cement walk repaired to meet the increase in business. In 1928 H, C. Kemmann & Sons erected a Standard Station and a Phillips 66 opened in November of 1934. And the traffic kept coming. The Model T’s became Hudson’s. The ’57 Chevy’s became SUVs.
Celia remained the innkeeper for 31 years when she sold the business to John and Anna Strackbein who tended to the business for 10 years. Donna and Prince Hudson Jr purchased it in 1956 and assigned the contract to Mary Louise Wiles within a year of ownership. Mary Louise ran the hotel for seven years. On October 7th, 1967 William and Arlene Deerberg purchased the business and Arlene ran it for thirteen years. The building stood vacant until Lincolnway Hotel, Inc. purchased it for the purpose of historic preservation in 1991. Brad Norton and Sue Licht, on behalf of the corporation renovated the building. The hotel opened as an apartment building for low income housing in the spring of 1996. At that time the hotel was presented the “Preservation at Its Best Award” from the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance., and had earned a spot on the List of Historic Places on the National Historic Register.
The hotel operated as a residential facility until 2001 when Brad and Elizabeth Norton purchased the business. Elizabeth took over management and through atrophy converted the apartments to five spacious suites with private baths. She also introduced an optional gourmet breakfast served in the dining room. The seventh room offers a space for a massage therapist. Elizabeth has served travelers from as far as Vienna, Norway and Germany, to name a few; hosted family reunions with families coming together from both coasts of the United States; entertained the organizers of Ragbrai; along with providing the comforts of home to the many other travelers who enjoy the highway and coming to the country.
After 100 years, six innkeepers, an unknown number of guests who shared the comforts of the Lincoln Hotel, the Norton’s, in their 60’s, are now thinking retirement and looking for a new keeper for this stately building. The Lincoln Hotel will continue to serve highway travelers and witness change on the Lincoln Highway as it outlives its innkeepers.