Historic U.S. Highway 65: Old Road Between Albert Lea and Clarks Grove

Old Road Between Albert Lea and Clarks Grove

Located: between downtown Albert Lea and a point about 3 miles south of Clarks Grove. On Broadway, Clark St, and Bridge Ave in Albert Lea, on County Rd 22 btwn Albert Lea and Bancroft, and 245th Street in Bancroft Township.

Historic Context: Temporary pre-development trunk highway route.

Length: 5.65 miles

Constructed: Broadway and Clark St in Albert Lea originally paved with wood blocks. Bridge Avenue as far north as the county fair grounds paved with concrete in 1925. Remainder of the road graded and graveled in 1919.

Also On:

Bypassed: 1929, by construction of the first modern highway along what are now County Road 45 and modern U.S. 65.

Status: Only 0.65 miles remains in near-original condition (on 245th Street). Another 0.65 miles at the north end has been obliterated and recultivated. The rest has been rebuilt and modernized.

Access: Public. South end via Broadway from U.S. 65. North end via 245th Street from Co Rd 45.

U.S. 65's original route between Albert Lea and Clarks Grove was along what is now County Road 22, plus Bridge Avenue and Clark Street in Albert Lea. It was bypassed by the construction of the permanent trunk highway a mile to the east along what is now County Road 45 in 1929.

The old route began in downtown Albert Lea at the intersection of Broadway Avenue and William Street. After traveling north for a block on Broadway, the route turned east onto Clark Street and then continued out of downtown to Bridge Avenue, where it turned north. Following Bridge Avenue, the route passed over the outlet of Fountain Lake and then continued north past the entrance to the county fair grounds (then at the north edge of town) onto what is now County Road 22. After following County Road 22 north for a couple of miles, the route passed through the failed townsite of Bancroft, where it made a turn to the northeast, cutting diagonally across the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad towards County Road 45, where it finally turned north towards Clarks Grove.

Most of the old route had been graded as a county job in 1919 as part of the old State Roads program. It was taken over in 1921 as the temporary route of State Route 1. At the time, the only pavement was wood blocks on Broadway and Clark Street in Albert Lea. Bridge Avenue was paved with concrete in 1925 as far north as the entrance to the county fair grounds, perhaps indicating that the highway department wanted to develop the old corridor as the permanent location of State Route 1. However, the permanent highway ended up being built over a mile to the east, abandoning the old scenic route along Fountain Lake for a route that allowed for a straighter grade and kept traffic out of the built up area of town for a longer distance. In fact, the permanent route was actually slightly longer (5.95 miles vs 5.81 miles). The new route also eliminated an at-grade rail crossing.

Today, very little of the old road remains in its original condition. Only a short stretch of 245th Street near the north end remains unpaved. In addition, the old diagonal connection east of the Rock Island Railroad has been obliterated.

The other section that retains some of its historic feel is at the south end near Fountain Lake and downtown Albert Lea. Although the streets have been repaved, the scenic view of the lake is intact, and the downtown area still retains many of its historic commercial buildings (just try to ignore the fast-food restaurants on the east side of Bridge Avenue). Sadly, the bridge over the outlet of Fountain Lake was replaced back in 1966, most likely due to the historic flooding that occurred in 1965. The only info I could find on the old bridge was a photo from an article on the flooding event, which shows what appears to be a closed spandrel concrete arch bridge in poor condition with ornate concrete railings.

The remainder of the route between Albert Lea and Bancroft along the County Road 22 corridor suffered the most change. The curves at Bancroft were heavily realigned, and the rest of the route paved. South of I-90, the historic route has become one of Albert Lea's major big-box retailing districts, and the road has been widened to accommodate the heavier traffic loads.

Photo Tour

Taken by the author in July, 2010 and August, 2011.

On Broadway, looking north towards the intersection with William Street (a block north of where U.S. 65 currently runs). The old road continued ahead for another block.

At the intersection with Clark Street. The old route turned right here. This was also the original west junction with U.S. 16 and old State Route 9, which came in from the north on Broadway.

Looking east down Clark Street from Broadway.

More old commercial buildings on Clark Street.

At the intersection with Bridge Avenue, looking northeast. The old route turned left here.

Crossing the outlet of Fountain Lake on Bridge Avenue. The bridge here dates to 1966.

View of Fountain Lake from the bridge, looking back to the west towards downtown.

Dedication plaque for the fountain in the park north of the bridge, placed here in 1921, the same year that Bridge Avenue became part of the trunk highway system as the temporary route of State Route 1.

The intersection of Bridge Avenue with Marshall Street. This was the original east junction with U.S. .16 from 1926 until 1929 when both highways were moved to their permanent routes (U.S. 16 and old State Route 9 turned right here).

On Bridge Avenue, aka County Road 22 on the north side of Albert Lea, now widened and paved as a major thorough street.

(NEW PHOTO! - 8/28/11)

Driving through Albert Lea's northern big-box retail district on County Road 22.

(NEW PHOTO! - 8/28/11)

Driving under Interstate 90.

County Road 22 marker, immediately north of the interchange with I-90 north of Albert Lea.

About a mile north of I-90, the old road passes through Bancroft. The road here has been heavily realigned, as shown in the image above. The purple line represents the old alignment (mouse over the image to compare the area today with how it appeared in 1938). The roads have been reconfigured to direct traffic north onto County Road 22 instead of curving to the northeast onto 245th Street. Bancroft was a failed townsite venture, platted in 1856 to compete with Albert Lea for the county seat in 1857. However, it failed to attract settlement, and only supported one store and a post office.

(NEW PHOTO! - 8/28/11)

On County Road 22 in "downtown" Bancroft (the junction with County Roads 14 and 99).

Just north of Bancroft, looking north on County Road 22 towards the intersection with 245th Street. The old road started curving to the right into what is now a field just ahead. To continue on the old route, you now have to continue ahead to the intersection and turn right. The old alignment resumes at the first curve.

Eastbound on 245th Street, the only portion of the old road still in its original condition.

Another view on 245th Street eastbound, approaching the old crossing of the Rock Island Chicago and Pacific Railroad.

The northeastern end of the old road to Clarks Grove is now gone, plowed under and returned to cultivation. It has been replaced by a new road that turns due east as it crosses the Union Pacific tracks. The above map shows the path of the old road across the field with a purple line (mouse over the image to see how the area looked in 1938).

At the old railroad crossing. The original road continued straight ahead into the field instead of curving to the right.

Continue north on Old 65 Between Albert Lea and Geneva (starts mid-tour)

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