The Jefferson Highway – North Iowa Tour
Take a trip along a historic highway – discover architectural treasures, eateries, breweries, festivals & more!
The Jefferson Highway Association was organized in 1915. In 1916, this historic north-south U.S. border-to-border route was envisioned for car and freight travel as the auto age developed. In its earliest days the Jefferson Highway followed wagon trails, dirt and gravel roads weaving its way through every town along its route. The highway name was changed to Iowa #1 in 1920, which later became Highway 65 in 1926 when the U.S. highway numbering system was adopted. In Iowa, the byway runs between the communities of Northwood and Lamoni, roughly along U.S. Highways 65 & 69. In 2016, the route was designated as an Iowa Heritage Byway.
The North Iowa towns along the route include Northwood, Kensett, Manly, Mason City, Rockwell, Sheffield and Hampton. Keep reading to find out what the trail has to offer today!
Stromstein Building (611 Central Ave) Built in 1898 by Northwood hotelier John Stromstein as a gift to his daughter, the building featured a retail bay on the ground floor and a residence in the upper level. In 2012, it was listed as one of Iowa’s 10 most endangered properties by Preservation Iowa, because of its unique multi-curved roof and intricate wood facade. Today, the building is restored to it’s original faux-metal pressed brick siding and a new rolled metal roof. The building was even moved from it’s current location to an adjacent lot while a new foundation was constructed using over 3,000 hand-scraped bricks from the original foundation.
Worth County Freedom Rock (300 Willow St.) The Freedom Rock Tour is a unique 99-piece mural across the state of Iowa. Kensett is the setting of the Worth County Freedom Rock which can be found in front of the town’s community center.
Kensett Community Church – The Church Museum, built in 1899, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The church was designed by F.W. Kinney, a designer listed in Iowa’s Historic Architects. The museum is architecturally notable for its tin interior, and the documentation of the construction and membership from 1895 until the church closed in 1997.
In 1877, the Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad (BCR&N) joined the Central of Iowa track with its own track from Plymouth Junction. The site was named Manly Junction after the Central of Iowa’s freight agent, J.C. Manly.
Manly Junction Railroad Museum (111 E. Main St.) An orange rail motorcar, weathered lanterns, signs, timetables and mural-size photographs are among the displays you can see at the Manly Railroad Junction Museum.
Railroad Ag Days, typically held the last Saturday of August, is the town’s celebration named after the railroad – festivities include a parade, live music, a beer tent and more.
Great eateries along the way:
Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill – 846 Central Ave, Northwood, IA 50459
Bean & Bistro – 826 Central Ave, Northwood, IA 50459
Signatures Supper Club – 728 Central Ave, Northwood, IA 50459
R80 Cafe – 2 Maple St., Kensett, IA 50401
Northwestern Steakhouse – 304 16th St. NW, Mason City, IA 50401
Suzie Q Cafe – 14 2nd St. NW, Mason City, IA 50401
Birdsalls – 518 N. Federal Ave, Mason City, IA 50401
Blue Heron Bar & Grill – 1401 N. Federal Ave, Mason City, IA 50401
Pro’s Sandwich Shop – 629 S. Federal Ave, Mason City, IA 50401
West Fork Wharf – 116 E Gilman St., Sheffield, IA 50475
Block 10 at 1921 City Hall – 309 Gilman St., Sheffield, IA 50475
Mason City is home to numerous award-winning attractions and host to dozens of events and concerts year round. The city is also the central hub for shopping, dinning & entertainment in the North Iowa area. As you travel along Highway 65, be sure to stop and explore the Lime Creek Nature Center. Nestled atop the limestone bluffs of the Winnebago River, the center is located on 450 acres of diverse natural habitat with nearly nine miles of trails winding through woodlands, wetlands, and prairies of wildflowers. The perfect spot to stop and stretch your legs!
Mason City is also home to the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel in the world – The Historic Park Inn (15 W State Street). Visitors are able to tour the hotel by stopping at the Wright on the Park Headquarters (17 S. Federal Ave) and/or enjoying overnight accommodations at the beautiful 27-room boutique hotel.
Discover the largest group of Prairie School designed homes on a unified site – the Rock Crest & Rock Glen Historic District. Homes located along the The Prairie School Architectural Tour were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, William Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, and other well-known architects. The tour encompasses numerous buildings, churches, and the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home open to the public in Iowa – The Stockman House (530 1st St. NE)
A can’t-miss event in Mason City is the North Iowa Band Festival – held annually during Memorial Day weekend. The festival honors the community’s rich musical heritage and Mason City native Meredith Willson, composer of ‘The Music Man’. The event is the largest free marching band competition in the Midwest. Festivities include a carnival, free musical entertainment, craft market and much more! Visitors can learn more about Willson’s life and legacy at the Music Man Square & Willson’s Boyhood Home. For a complete list of events happening in Mason City, CLICK HERE
Worth Brewing Company – 835 Central Ave, Northwood, IA 50459
Mason City Brewing – 28 E. State Street, Mason City, IA 50459
Fat Hill Brewing 17 N. Federal Ave, Mason City, IA 50459
The Rustic Brew 117 1st St. NW, Hampton, IA 50441
Linn Grove Park (518 Madison St. W) is a thirty-eight acre park along Beaver Dam Creek, which includes a public golf course, public swimming pool, picnicking, shelter house.
Rockwell is the host of the North Iowa Nationals Tractor Pulls, an annual event held in July. Summer fun continues in August with their annual community event, Kickin’ N Chicken – festivities include live music, a softball tournament, activities for children and much more!
Sheffield is the second largest town in Franklin County, and was founded by C. C. Gilman, owner of the Eldora Railroad and Coal Company in 1875.
Ridge Stone Golf Club (7 Brickyard Rd.) is a public, nine-hole, links-style course designed by architect Mark Kerr. Visitors can enjoy lunch, dinner or drinks with friends at the Ridge Stone Grill located inside the clubhouse.
History enthusiasts will be fascinated by landmarks that include Carnegie public library (4 S. Federal St.), the Harriman-Nielsen Historic Farm (23 10th St. NW), the G.A.R. Memorial Hall (3 Federal St. N), Franklin County Courthouse (12 1st Ave NW), Windsor Theatre (103 N, Federak St.), and the REA Museum (18 Central Ave E) – the first rural electric utility plant west of the Mississippi.