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History of the Interstate Trail, Jefferson Highway and Jefferson Association

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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 ComplexOne 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.

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