Jefferson Highway Association bus tour comes through Albert Lea as part of annual conference

Published 2:43 pm Thursday, June 8, 2023

Visitors from the Jefferson Highway Association stopped by Albert Lea Thursday morning as part of its annual conference, which included a bus trip from Mason City to Owatonna. 

According to their website, the association, organized for charitable, educational and scientific purposes, works to promote the preservation of the Jefferson Highway in the United States.The highway stretched from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The conference attracted people from all over the country, including California, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Tennessee, to name a few. 

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Holly Babcock, executive director of the Albert Lea Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Albert Lea Main Street Program, said prior to the arrival that she intended to conduct a short bus tour through town along the Jefferson Highway. Her goal was to connect history related with the highway to current buildings and events around the highway.

”There’s kind of highway enthusiasts … that are going to be a part of this conference,” she said.

While Babcock has done bus tours for visitors curious about Blue Zone communities and their effects, potential business hires curious about the area and yearly tours for new teachers, this was her first time presenting for visitors from the Jefferson Highway Association Conference.

“I wasn’t in this role back when the state preservation conference was held here a couple years before,” she said. 

According to Babcock, the organization has been trying to do something with Albert Lea since 2020, though the pandemic put a pause on any potential collaboration.

“I kind of have a shtick that I do just for general tours of our community, but this one is a little more specific because these folks are looking for things specific to Jefferson Highway and kind of its historical impact and things that maybe people who [used] Jefferson Highway during that time visited or did when they came through our community.” 

This was also the first time giving a historical tour.

Babcock said she was happy to promote the area, adding that having historical ties was an important component.

The local portion of the tour started at Academy Park, where, according to Babcock, Luther Academy and Dormitory was.

The tour then came up South Broadway, where she talked about downtown as well as where Hotel Albert was located.

According to Babcock, the city’s bus depot was outside the hotel for Jefferson lines.

The tour then went down Clark Street to Bridge Avenue, where she planned to talk about New Denmark Park as well as Albert Lea’s park system. During the tour, she wanted to point out the Danish immigrant statue at the park, which was dedicated in 1981, as well as the mermaid statue.

She also planned to point out the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library & Village as well as the fairgrounds and its history.

“I will probably touch on our industrial park that is out there on the north side of town just because we’ll kind of be passing by it,” she said.

Her hope was for visitors to see  Albert Lea’s beautiful downtown and the expansions on South Broadway, and that they’d be inclined to return.

Tom Arms, a member of the Lincoln Highway Association, came all the way from California.

“Just interested in old highways, original highway systems,” he said, adding he thought this was an excellent conference and tour.

Shirely Ingram, a member of the Jefferson Highway Association, came all the way from Louisiana.

“I needed to come see how it’s done,” she said, noting next year’s convention will be in Louisiana.

“It’s been very enlightening,” she said.

Roger Bell, president of the Jefferson Highway Association, was on hand for the tour.

“One of the things we really want to encourage is southern Minnesota,” he said. “We wanted to do our tour up into this area, so we’re really excited.”

He was also appreciative of the interest and help provided by Albert Lea CVB.

“We look forward to gaining more momentum here and creating more of a tourist portal here through Minnesota and into Iowa,” he said.

The local portion ended at Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative, though the bus was scheduled to stop at the Freeborn County Historical Museum in the afternoon before returning to Mason City.