April 12, 2021 (Ames, Iowa) — Tourists driving through Belle Plaine along the Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway™ – A National Scenic Byway can discover a treasured legacy that has stood for more than four generations. In celebration, Preston’s Station Historic District will unveil a new interpretive panel at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 1. Visitors viewing the panel will learn about its history and see the faces behind its legacy.
The Ames, Iowa-based not-for-profit Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway program facilitated the interpretive panel’s design and construction as part of a ten-panel project using grant funding from the Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving Program and Humanities of Iowa along with a cash match courtesy of the Burke Heritage Fund. The panels offer travelers and their families a safe, fun, educational and engaging activity.
“We are honored to be one the sites to have been selected to install an interpretive panel,” says Preston’s Station Historic District owner Mary Helen Preston, “This panel showcases four generations of Prestons that began in 1913 when my great grandfather followed the Union Pacific to Belle Plaine for work and saw an opportunity to provide a needed service when the Lincoln Highway was rerouted through town.”
From great grandfather to grandfather, to father, to daughter, the family has remained Preston's Station’s caretakers preserving the property and telling the story of how important the railroad and the Lincoln Highway have been to Belle Plaine.
Located at 402 13th Street in Belle Plaine, Preston’s Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2020. It comprises an old gas station, a garage/roadside museum and motel. Visitors can appreciate what travel was like during the past along the Lincoln Highway while experiencing vintage gas pumps, signage and memorabilia.
Preston’s Station Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 21, 2020. Preston’s becomes the fifth such listing for Belle Plaine. Preston’s nomination is supported in part by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program. Jennifer Price, Price Preservation Research, a historic preservation professional was retained to research and prepare the nomination.
Preston’s is in its original location on the north side of the old Lincoln Highway route on 13thStreet in Belle Plaine; paralleling the route of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, the tracks are still in use by the Union Pacific Railroad.
Preston’s Station Historic District conveys a feeling of time and place of an early to mid-twentieth-century “mom and pop” filling station, garage and roadside lodging, complete with family residence. The sign-covered filling station, itself, has been preserved almost as George Preston left it, so one would not be surprised to see George standing in the doorway. Preston’s close association with other such historic roadside building types and the Lincoln Highway has made Preston’s Station Historic District a must-see attraction for tourists following the historic route through Iowa.
“We are appreciative of the support our efforts to preserve and restore Preston's Station Historic District has received. Preston's Station is honored to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing will assist us with long-term preservation as a historic site and community asset. We are dedicated to educating and raising awareness of the historical significance of Preston’s, the city of Belle Plaine and the Lincoln Highway for all generations to appreciate and be inspired by the past,” said Mary Helen Preston, Preston’s Station Historic District President.
Preston’s Station Historic District is comprised of a gas station, garage, and motel which sit along the old Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first transcontinental highway. The filling station built in 1912 was purchased by G. W. Preston in the early 1920s and moved to its present location on 13th Street between 1928 and 1930. Originally constructed as a house-with canopy gas station, the post canopy was removed sometime before 1965. The exterior walls are wood siding and covered with antique advertising signs on all four sides. Historic and family memorabilia is displayed inside the station. The adjacent concrete-block garage was constructed in 1943 and features a sliding barn door on which more antique signs are displayed. The building served as a repair garage and then George H. Preston’s personal roadside museum and continues to house many items from Preston’s collection. A single story, three-unit motel on the property was built sometime after 1949. In its heyday, this business was a mainstay along the popular route and at present there is no other location like this left on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa.
Today, the property is still owned and maintained by the Preston family and continues to be a popular tourist attraction for enthusiasts looking for history and nostalgia along the historic route.
Overall, the District, however, is showing a lack of maintenance and deterioration. The advertising signs throughout the District demonstrate evidence of long exposure to the elements and need to be preserved. The Station’s interior and collection of historic and family memorabilia also show signs of deterioration due to exposure to sun and moisture. The screws used to fasten the tin roof of the garage/museum are deteriorating, pulling away, allowing exposure to the elements and causing the ceiling to fall on the collection of historic and family memorabilia in the building. The windows of the building are boarded up and need to be replaced. There are also signs of wood rot and possible termite damage on the buildings which need to be addressed.
A not-for-profit has been formed with the goal of raising money for the preservation of the buildings. Initial plans call for completion of a structure review and the development of a Historic Structure Report to direct preservation planning efforts for the site.
Preston's Station Historic District is honored to be a recipient of of a 2019 Paint Iowa Beautiful Grant; receiving paint from Diamond Vogel for our roadside museum/garage.
We are appreciative of Paint Iowa Beautiful/ Keep Iowa Beautiful and Diamond Vogel for their support and seeing the need for assistance in maintaining the significance of Preston's. We want to thank Hope Schultz, Diamond Vogel Store Manager at Marshalltown’s Diamond Vogel and Dave Goodell for your support and expertise from start to finish.
We are dedicated to preserving and restoring Preston's for all generation to enjoy.
Belle Plaine Union - Preston Building A New Motel - 1953 (pdf)Download
Belle Plaine Union - Begins Antique Museum - 1981 (pdf)Download
Belle Plaine Union - George Preston Pumps Gas for 60 Years - 1983 (pdf)Download
Wall Street Journal - "If You Like Historic Milestones, Here's a Road Show Not to Miss"-1990 (pdf)Download
Dess Moines Register - Iowan Has Lots To Say - 1990 (pdf)Download
Belle Plaine Union - Remembering the 'Blue Valley Drive' - 2006 (pdf)Download