The Lincoln Highway, which passes from river to river through the entire length of Iowa, was one of the first transcontinental roadways available for automobiles.
In it's hay day, these roads were heavily traveled. Cafes, service stations, and motels popped up to serve travelers, business people, and families. In many cases, little clusters of gas/food/lodging became regular sites along the way.
However, as times evolved and the Interstate System became a more efficient option, the Lincoln Highway and Jefferson Highway, a popular north and south road, as well as Route 66 and others like it became less ideal options. Thus, some of these businesses struggled and in many cases, closed.
Overtime, many of these clusters were bulldozed or left to decay, a sad reminder of a classic era of Americana now gone.
However, in little Colo, Iowa - a small town along the Lincoln Highway and about halfway between Ames and Marshalltown - that history has been preserved and is celebrated.
On a recent Sunday morning, I stopped by to enjoy the history (through a self-guided tour of the grounds) as well as gobble down some fantastic brunch at Niland's Cafe.
These little sign posts offered great self-guided history all throughout the grounds.
On most days throughout the week, Niland's Cafe offers a full menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner options. However, on Sundays, they only offer a brunch buffet for most of the morning and then offer the menu for lunch.
I did not know that a buffet was going to be my only choice, but I also was not disappointed. It was quite a good deal at $8.95 for an adult, which did not include any drinks (like the coffee I enjoyed).
There was an ample selection of sausage, bacon, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, breakfast quesadillas, fruit, yogurt, fruit pizza, waffles with syrup, and more.
I have to say, the biscuits and country sausage gravy were outstanding. Also, the breakfast potatoes were quite delicious as well. Not to mention, it's hard to screw up bacon or sausage...especially bacon.
The rest of the interior of the cafe is part rural country cafe and part museum. There are a lot of old signs and photos on the wall and there is an antique 1939 Cadillac in the corner.
The old booths, checkered floors, and antique-style lighting gives the restored cafe an authentic feel.
There is a large board that recognizes donors who helped make the restoration of the Reed-Niland Corner happen.
Of course, it wouldn't be a rural Iowa cafe without signs and announcements for upcoming community events. There was even a sign about how you can rent one of the rooms in the connected motel. There was also a table with maps and other local attractions for the tourists and adventurers looking for something else to enjoy. It was fun to look through the guest book to see how far some guests have traveled to enjoy this restored Iowa gem.
It was bone-chillingly cold on this particular morning, but I wandered around and followed the self-guided tour. They sure do not make roadside signs like these anymore.
Of the three elements of this corner, only the Reed Service Station is not operable today. You can still eat at Niland's Cafe or stay in the Colo Motel, but you cannot get fuel or other convenience store items at the station. I do not know if it is sometimes open for tours/visitors, but on this particular morning, the best I could do was get a look in through the windows. It looks like there are a lot of great antiques and artifacts in there.
For about $50 a night plus tax, you can stay in one of the restored Colo Motel rooms. However, not all of the rooms were restored. I am not sure if that was on purpose or because they just did not have the resources to do so?
Outside one of the buildings, there were images put into the sidewalk denoted where the men's and women's restrooms were/are.
There are a few picnic tables and other space that can be utilized by patrons or those passing through.
Elsewhere on the grounds, there were a few more sign posts explaining additional information about the highway and other history.
Next time you are in central Iowa, I would highly encourage you to make a trip over to Reed-Niland Corner in Colo to experience the restoration of this bygone era. If for not no other reason, I think you'll find yourself a darn good meal at Niland's cafe.
Check out their website to learn more. There's a lot of great Iowa historical information on there. Not to mention, I think they have regular events throughout the year.