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History of the Interstate Trail, Jefferson Highway and Jefferson Association


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Interstate Trail: Precursor to the Jefferson Highway

Lamoni, IowaBefore the Jefferson Highway Association’s dream of connecting the nation from north to south was realized, an Iowa road association, known as the Interstate Trail Association, organized a route that connected Des Moines and Kansas City. Four years after the Interstate Trail Association had begun work on their route, the Jefferson Highway Association flooded the Missouri Valley with publicity and support for the Jefferson Highway. Many of the founding members of the Interstate Trail later became integral figures in the development of the Jefferson Highway, while the path of Interstate Trail itself became part of the Jefferson Highway.

On March 14, 1911, the Des Moines-Kansas City-St. Joseph Interstate Trail Association was organized in Lamoni, Iowa, and the route officially located, and ordered marked by the association who received assistance from automobile clubs, commercial organizations, farmers, and other citizens in the cities, towns and countryside traversed by the trail.

The organizational meeting was called by W.A. Hopkins, banker and citizen of Lamoni. The bylaws of the Interstate Trail Association, which were subsequently established on March 11, 1913, indicated the highway route was a direct route between Fort Des Moines and Fort Leavenworth, making it a practical military road for the transportation of troops and “. . . a valuable aid in developing the resources of the counties traversed, a better means of social and business communication, and a lasting benefit to the communities through which it passes. . .”

Hugh H. ShepardOn Jan. 5, 1915, a meeting of the association was held at Mason City, at which time the original Interstate Trail was extended north from Des Moines through Nevada, Iowa Falls, Mason City, and Northwood, Iowa, and Albert Lea, Owatonna, Faribault, and Northfield to St. Paul, Minn., and the name of the route was changed to the St. Paul-Des Moines-St. Joseph-Kansas City Interstate Trail.

Hugh H. Shepard of Mason City called and organized the January 1915 meeting, and was selected as general manager of the northern division of the Interstate Trail from Des Moines to St. Paul. He was responsible for organizing the marking of the 271-mile trail section during the summer of 1915.

Howard Muhlenbruch

Discovery of an original Interstate Trail marker

In 1956, one of the markers from the original Interstate Trail was discovered by Howard Muhlenbruch of Hampton, Iowa, in a grove on his farm, two miles north of Hampton. An article about his discovery, along with his photo and that of the sign, was published in the Mason City Globe Gazette in October 1995.

Kathy Hotchkiss, daughter of Howard Muhlenbruch, contacted the Iowa Department of Transportation in June 2007. She relayed the following story to the department about the Muhlenbruch farm and the sign’s discovery.



“Back in 1955, my parents just purchased their farm northwest of Hampton. My dad was cleaning up some brush and hit a piece of metal with a rake or something. He unearthed a sign that said, “Interstate Trail.” We had the sign on the farm for a long time, and I think my dad had nailed it to a tree; in any case, it came to the attention of a neighbor who was interested in history. We think that it probably was posted at the corner east of our farm, and due to it getting lost or buried, possibly was missed when they collected old metal for the war effort, the period when other signs disappeared.

We think the old Interstate Trail sort of meandered through the small communities in Franklin and Cerro Gordo counties, whereas the Jefferson Highway and U.S. 65 are more direct. Our family’s farm is one mile west of U.S. 65, northwest of the intersection of county roads S-43 and C-31, in section 17 of Mott Township. I moved off the farm in October, to Moline, Ill., but my daughter and son-in-law live there now. I think the trail went through Chapin, Sheffield, and Rockwell north of Hampton, as there used to be a curve into town on the northwest side.”


Franklin County Historical Society

Eventually Muhenbruch’s discovery was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society and it is now on display at their museum on the Franklin County fairgrounds.


Registration of Iowa trails

The Iowa Highway Commission authorized under Section 1527-S22, Supplement to the Iowa Code, 1913, a requirement that voluntary trail organizations submit
an application to register highway routes of 25 miles or more in length along with a $5 fee to the Highway Commission who would issue a certificate protecting the route names and color combinations and designs of the route markers used by these associations. There were 18 trails registered in 1914. By 1925 when the registration process ended, there were 64 registered trails.


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