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What is so historic about US Route 6?

by Maeve Clark on June 13th, 2016

Historic Route 6 Iowa signHave you wondered about these signs?  The signs are easy to explain, but story behind the US 6, is a long and winding one.  U.S. Route 6 (US 6), is a main route of the U.S. Highway system. It currently runs east-northeast from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts, although the route has been modified several times. The highway’s longest-lasting routing, from 1936 to 1964, had its western terminus at Long Beach, California. During this time, US 6 was the longest highway in the country.   The first numbered segment of Route 6, extending from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Brewster, New York, was designated in 1925. Soon thereafter Route 6 was extended to Erie, Pa, the Pennsylvania segment routed along the “Roosevelt Highway,” a name that would soon apply to the entire transcontinental Route 6. In 1931, Route 6 was further extended to Greeley, Colorado along a path that combined quite a number of separate numbered and unnumbered segments, including U. S. 32 across part of Illinois and all of Iowa, and U. S. 38 across part of Nebraska. Finally, in 1937, the route was extended westward to Bishop, California and south to Long Beach. Then in 1965, the segment south of Bishop was decommissioned. The name “Roosevelt Highway” seems to have stuck for a while, but had faded by the 1950s. Throughout its history, before and after the magic moment in 1937 when Route 6 gained its transcontinentality, numerous route modifications were made, most of them at a local scale. (http://www.heritagedocumentaries.org/Route6/story.html)                 GAR sign

In 1953 Route 6 was designated the Grand Army of the Republic [GAR] Highway to honor those who served in the Civil War and signs were found as  in all fourteen of the states through which it ran. Through the 19602 and 1970s the GAR Highway signs gradually disappeared.In the early 1990s, this name was revived and it appears on signs in all fourteen Route 6 states (numerically ranging from four in California, to nearly 100 signs in Indiana).

Iowa has a fascinating road history, (look for more posts on this topic), parts of  the River to River Road which was built in a day across Iowa in 1910, became Route 6. It was built through the coordinated effort of people in every township along the way. In the 1920s, the road that would become Route river to river6 was designated by utility poles that were painted white, creating the White Pole Road, or White Way Highway. These designations had disappeared until the Spring of 1999 when a series of White Pole whitePoleRoadMapRoad signs appeared along Route 6 in Cass County, Iowa.  Irving Weber writes about the White Way Highway, among other highways in volume 5 of his Historical stories about Iowa City.

In 2013, with the help of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau,  Iowa City added the Historic Route 6 signs.  If you want to learn more about the Historic Route 6 a great place to start is the US Route 6 Tourist Association.   And if you want to learn more about Iowa City streets, including Historic Route 6, be sure to watch Tom Schulien’s 2016 Weber Day’s presentation Making Sense out of Iowa City Streets

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1846: Iowa City

by Anne Mangano on May 25th, 2016

newhallWhat was Iowa City like 170 years ago? To get an idea, we can turn to John B. Newhall, author of A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846*. In this work, he states that one couldn’t help but think of Saint-Omer in France and he “speaks as an eye-witness.” I do not believe Newhall in this. He was a noted salesman in his day and his product was Iowa. He wrote a number of books and he lectured both on the east coast and in England proclaiming the wonders of the new state (or territory depending on the publication date of the book).

Despite what Iowa diarist T.S. Parvin calls “too flowery” of language, Newhall is extremely useful in providing a directory for the city in 1846. He lists sellers of dry goods, doctors, mills, schools, churches, and newspapers. For our purposes, Iowa City had two coffee houses, one owned by Charles Frink and the other by R. C. Keathy. Lawyers included G. Folsom, M. Reno, and W. Penn Clark. There was one insurance company.

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A Sugar Creek Chronicle – Cornelia F. Mutel

by Jason Paulios on April 22nd, 2016
A Sugar Creek Chronicle – Cornelia F. Mutel Cover Image

The latest in the Bur Oak Books series from the University of Iowa Press is Cornelia Mutel’s account on climate change as seen from the mixed oak woodlands in rural Johnson County, Iowa. The book is cleverly structured to follow the four seasons during the year 2012, each season features daily journal entries detailing weather and climate notes. Interspersed are notable updates on various woodland species in the acreage alongside Iowa natural history. Paired with the day-to-day of 2012 country living are complimenting memoir sections detailing growing up in Madison, her mother’s early death, and parenthood in Iowa City.  

Her writing is organized and passionate, her love of the natural world is infectious and I often found myself considering putting down the book to wander a nearby nature trail. Throughout all the meditative trail walking anecdotes filled with chipmunk scurrying and spring ephemeral blooming are sobering climate science facts and how they are impacting all these things we care about. Her research is presented in small digestible amounts and her teaching background is evident in the way in which she breaks down complicated earth science processes. 

An Iowa Tale

by Mary Estle-Smith on July 1st, 2015

I have long been a fan of Jane Smiley’s work. While I haven’t read everything she has written, as I am sometimes not too interested in the  subject matter, she does tell a good story.

I am particularly fond of her titles with a horse theme including a recent series targeted to older children, and her Iowa based titles.

Her newest books are parts one and two of a trilogy.  I think of them as multi-generational family sagas.  The first book,  Some Luck,  begins in 1920 on a small family farm in Denby Iowa.  The story follows a couple, Walter and Roseanna Langdon, their children and extended family through World War II and into the early 1950’s.

some luck               early warning

 

The second of the series, Early Warning,  picks up in the early 1950’s and goes on through 1986 with a third generation of the Langdon family coming into adulthood.

Smiley draws characters who are multifaceted and just like real people,  sometimes you really like them and sometimes you don’t.  These stories can be read as a “light” history of the economy and evolution of  life on a family farm as well as the social and political climate of the times.

I feel like this family could have lived down the road from me growing up.  I can’t wait to see how they all end up in the next volume!

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

by Maeve Clark on November 7th, 2014
Some Luck by Jane Smiley Cover Image

I admit it, I can’t get enough of Jane Smiley.  And thanks to a sales rep from Random House and the recent Iowa City Book Festival I was not only able to get a advance reading copy of Some Luck, Smiley’s latest novel, but I, with several hundred other avid readers,  was able to hear her read from it at the Englert Theatre. I have heard Smiley read before and she can weave a great story in person as well as in print and she did just that on the Sunday afternoon she stopped in Iowa City.  She clearly still loves Iowa, her home for many years while she studied in Iowa City and then taught at Iowa State.  In fact, she shared the story of  her vintage bag, she said it reminded her of Iowa and her sweater, which she knit herseJane Smileylf, from yarn made from soybeans, which she thought might just have been grown here too.

The focus of Some Luck, the first of a trilogy, is the Langdon family; their farm, their kin and their lives for the next 33 years.   And what a 33 years it is.  The book begins with Walter and Rosanna and their five month old son, Frank.  The novel explores their life on the farm outside the small town of Denby. It was a rural Iowa that many of us grew up hearing about from our parents and grandparents, a time when fields were plowed with draft horses, and hired men lived with the family, schools were one room and the students were the children of the nearby families. The pace of life had a rhythm and pattern.  But change comes and Smiley illuminates the change chapter by chapter, with each each chapter covering a year in the Langdon family.

If you have been waiting for another novel from this Pulitzer Prize winning novelist you will be thrilled to read Some Luck.   And as luck would have it, there are two more books to follow.

 

 

 

Roadside plants in Iowa

by Beth Fisher on June 9th, 2014

iowa roadways3If you’ve ever taken a roadtrip, you know there are all sorts of things to see when cruising down the roads of Iowa. Big cities and small towns; railroads, bridges and barns; modern buildings or historic architecture; fields of corn, soybeans or hay; and trees, grasses and wildflowers.

It might surprise you to know that many of the trees, grasses and wildflowers you see in and along the roadsides of Iowa were planted by the Iowa D.O.T.   Iowa’s Living Roadways, a small spiral bound book produced by the Iowa Department of Transportation is a guide to the various landscape designs and planting styles used to maintain the roadways of Iowa.

The guide includes photographs and plant profiles of  41 species of wildflowers and grasses- from Canadian Anemone, Blackeyed Susan, Spiderwort and Vervain;  33 species of trees –  including, 10 species of Crabapples,  five species of Maples and 4 species of Oak; and 16 types of shrubs – from Chokeberries, to Dogwood and Fragrant Sumac.    Each plant profile includes a color photograph, a description, bloom times, trivia, and possible habitats or locations.

The end of the book has a glossary, references and bibliography, and  a fun 8-page section called Amazing Plant Facts.  (Did you know that Oak tress do not produce acorns until they are 50 years old?)     You can find a copy of this book in either the Circulating or Iowa Reference Collections at 582.13/Iowa’s

 




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