Monument to a Forgotten Lincoln Highway Booster

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The Coan monument following its dedication in September 1925. [University of Michigan–Special Collections Library.]

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

On a busy corner west of Clinton, Iowa, you’ll find a Lincoln Highway monument, restored and well-kept after almost a century but mostly ignored by the passing traffic. The granite pillar honors Iowa State Consul and good roads pioneer William Folwell Coan, forgotten in LH lore but an important booster of the LH. It features original enameled LH emblems and had been wired for electricity so that “an electric dome will be placed at the apex of the shaft, illuminating the memorial for passing motorists at night.”

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The Coan monument is joined nearby by decorative Lincoln Highway lamppost bases dedicated by the city of Clinton, Iowa, in the 2000s.

The marker, dedicated with a small ceremony on August 5, 1925, was erected by the Clinton Chamber of Commerce at the southeast corner of Lincoln Way (also now US 30) and Mississippi River Scenic Highway (now US 67). Clinton County was rather progressive for its time; while half the U.S. states spent no finds at all on road improvement, Clinton was paving its roads with gravel.

Coan was inspired by an earlier local resident who had experimented with making concrete. In September 1913, Coan became one of the original 10 LHA consuls  — perhaps the only name familiar from that initial group is Gael Hoag for Nevada, later LHA Field Secretary and Managing Secretary.  In 1914, Coan was elected honorary vice-president of the LHA. Four years later, he passed away at age 57.

 

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Dedicating the Coan monument, 1925. [University of Michigan–Special Collections Library.]

At the afternoon dedication ceremony, the flags covering the memorial were drawn back by six-year old William Rendall, Coan’s grandson. Gael Hoag was among the speakers, remarking how Coan’s name was held in such high regard at the headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association.

The main oration was presented by local attorney and city solicitor Frank W. Ellis; it was reported the next day that he “paid high tribute to the man who probably more than any one other man in this vicinity, pursued an ideal of a great national highway.”  The monument, Ellis said, was a fitting reminder of the good which Coan had accomplished: “This monument teaches us a great lesson; that working for others is one of the highest attributes of humanity.”

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