A visit to Lincoln, Iowa: Part 1

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

While on my trip to Gladbrook, Iowa, for the 100th Anniversary of the Corn Carnival, I decided to take a side trip to Lincoln, Iowa, which is about 6 1/2 miles north and slightly east of Gladbrook. I do have some family history in Lincoln, and it was a town that I visited somewhat often as a child. My grandmother went to church in Lincoln, her sister lived across the street from the church, and my parents were married in the same church back in 1962. I hadn't been to Lincoln in at least 15-20 years, so I had no idea what to expect. Things might have changed, or, things could be the same - and I was curious to find out.

Lincoln has always been a small farm town, and I see now that as of the 2020 Census, the population was 121. This first picture, below, is a view of Lincoln from afar as one approaches on County Road D65, also known as South Street.

The view of Lincoln, Iowa while approaching on County Road D65

There's a sign on County Road D65 heading east and leading into Lincoln which reads: Lincoln, Next 5 Exits," which you can see below. The joke is, of course, that there's only 5 roads in the town of Lincoln that intersect with D65, so those are your "next 5 exits." The most-imposing first impression as one gets closer to Lincoln are these large grain silos (2nd picture below), managed by the Heartland Co-Op, which supposedly can hold 3,385,000 bushels of grain. For a non-farmer like me, what can one compare bushels to in order to understand this amount? Well, one bushel is eight gallons, so we're talking over 27 million gallons of grain!

Road sign that says Lincoln, Iowa is the next 5 exits

Grain Silos in Lincoln, Iowa, managed by Heartland Co-Op

I pulled into town, taking a left on West Railroad Street, and found a parking spot in the shade. I decided to walk around the corner to Main Street to see what was going on. Keep in mind, this was a Saturday night, around 6:30pm ... and this is what I saw:

An empty Main Street in Lincoln, Iowa, not a single person or car to be found

Not a single person on Main Street, no cars parked on Main Street, no open businesses on Main Street ... nothing. The emptyness, the feeling of being in a ghost town, it was quite amazing. I can't say that I've experienced anything like this in any recent memory. I decided to take stock of what was there, especially since I hadn't been here in so long. Plus, I didn't have any specific memories of anything on Main Street anyway, since most of my childhood visits revolved around my grand-aunt's house, the church, and the local playground. So what exactly is situated on Main Street of Lincoln, Iowa, as of the summer of 2022? Let's find out.

The first two pictures are of boarded-up buildings on the right (south) side of Main Street, and can be seen in the picture above. This first structure did not have a visible street address, and the vertical white slats of wood cover up what I assume were front windows at some point. Whether this was someone's home or a business, there appears to be nothing here now.

The 2nd structure has the address 110 Main Street, which an online search reveals to have been a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home at some point (listed now as "off market") ... I did not go up close to the first floor windows to take a look, but as you can see, the second floor window has been boarded up like the other building.

Building on Main Street, Lincoln, Iowa

110 Main Street in Lincoln, Iowa

I have to admit, both of these buildings were visually appealing to me, perhaps because I had some mental associations with some work by well-known photographers. Both of these Lincoln buildings bring to mind the work of William Christenberry, and you can see some references to what I'm talking about in regards to architecture and small rural buildings such as his "Red Building" in Alabama, seen here. My 2nd picture of 110 Main, with the vertical slats on the exterior, brings to mind vintage pictures by Walker Evans, such as this one of a Country Store and Gas Station, Alabama, 1936.

For some reason, when I was on this trip to Gladbrook and Lincoln, I found myself looking at all of these old buildings and empty storefronts, and had a little real estate fantasy running through my mind about buying property with the idea of starting an arts-based revival of these small, rural towns - read more about this on my blog post here. It's an interesting fantasy (or - a real idea?) because compared to east coast real estate (I'm currently in New Jersey, 10 miles west of NYC), these properties are cheap. For example, I saw somewhere online that 110 Main Street sold just last year for $15,000! It's kind of like the Field Of Dreams - if you buy it, and fix it - will they come? Meaning if I bought one of these buildings and set up an art-related business, would anyone visit? One thing's for sure: there would be plenty of available parking, at least based on my Saturday night observations! I'm falling down a rabbit hole of thoughts here, but partially wanted to explain what exploring this quiet and empty Main Street was doing to my active mind on this particular day.

To be continued ... Part 2, coming soon.

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