Coleman Road Story
Clippings from Rich Lowe and Cathy Labath

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Hillsboro, Ia., June 30 - Alex Coleman, 90, a farmer, having $300,000 he did not desire to leave to any individual, has given the sum to the public in order that a 10-miles stretch of road east of Hillsboro might be paved. The paving is already laid and Mr. Coleman will be the subject of a celebration on the part of citizens July 4, near Mr. Coleman's old home. He now resides in Fort Madison.
  -- Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 1, 1928

     The Service Bulletin, issued by the State Highway Commission compares a gift by Henry Ford to the state of Massachusetts of a stretch of paved road less than two miles in length but costing $280,000 with a donation made by Alexander Coleman, of Hillsboro, Iowa, of a paved road ten miles in length, costing $250,000, in Lee and Henry counties. Mr. Coleman's gift was to the people of the community in which he spent his boyhood days while Henry Ford's road leads from the main highway to a privately owned museum and tourist inn which is conducted for profit.
   -- Iowa Recorder, Jan 25, 1928

Coleman Will:
Studied by Judge.
Ft. Madison - An interpretation of the will of the late Alexander Coleman was being prepared by Judge J.R. Leary.
     P.A. Blackford, executor of the will, appeared before the Judge yesterday and asked for permission to use blacktop in building  a four  mile road stretch between the Coleman road and the Bonaparte road.
     Blackford told Leary that Coleman's will provides that his money be used for concrete roads and that there is some doubt as to whether blacktop may be classified as concrete. He explained that he had about $50,000 available for construction and that this would be sufficient for the four miles of blacktop but would not be enough if he were compelled to use Portland cement which is definitely classified as concrete.
 -- Mt. Pleasant News, March 8, 1946

No Blacktop for Coleman Road

     Ft. Madison, Ia. - A construction of the Alexander Coleman will has been made by Judge J.R. Leary on request of executor P.A. Blackford, the Lee county board of supervisors, and county engineer James R. Dougherty.
     The Coleman will provided that his estate be used for building concrete roads, and the petitioners wanted to know if bituminous blacktop could be considered concrete.
     Judge Leary ruled that money from the estate could be used only for the building of hard surfaced roads constructed of sand, gravel, broken stone, or other mineral aggregates mixed with cement and water. His construction of the will apparently eliminates blacktop as a material for Coleman road building.
     County officials said the practical result of the decision was that blacktop could not be used on a five-mile road stretch between highway 16 and the Courtright corner of the Sharon road. They said $45,000 was available for the paving and although this would be enough for blacktop it would provide only one mile of concrete of the kind defined by the judge.
-- Mt. Pleasant News, April 14, 1946



By Louis Cook Jr.

     Hillsboro - Alex Coleman has one of the most peaceful monuments in Iowa - 12 miles of concrete paving through which the grass luxuriates and over which the wind blows free.
      It cost Alex nearly half a million dollars to pave a highway on his native hills, but it was his own money, and he spent it as he pleased.
     Nine miles of highway is two-lane and three miles is one lane.
     Except for Alex's generosity, his neighbors might have traveled to town on gravel and dirt indefinitely. The main part of Coleman road ends abruptly in Hillsboro, a quiet town of 255 souls.

Not Much Traffic.
Coleman road doesn't have much of a traffic count, although after 23 years it has acquired a clientele of truckers and motorists who use it as a short cut to Ottumwa from southeast Iowa. Businessmen along the way believe things are picking up.
     Alex was born in Ohio and moved with his family as a boy to a frame cottage several miles east of Hillsboro.
     He enlisted in the Civil War and served four years as a cavalryman. He never lost his military manners, nor his love for horses.
     Following the war he settled in Nebraska, engaging in farming and lending money. He never married. He made a lot of money - how much, nobody is quite certain. He was a stern, erect figure with a commanding presence and he seldom talked.

Back to Iowa.
     Alex came back to southeast Iowa to die in his native country. He was nearing 80. His nearest relatives and closest friends were Mr. and Mrs. Louis Rohdy, who still live in Lee county. Mrs. Rohdy is a grand-niece.
     He often visited the Rhody farm, sitting on the veranda and spinning yarns to the children about campaigns he had engaged in, and the effectiveness of the sawed-off shotgun as a calvary weapon.
     He kept a horse on the farm so he could drive around the neighborhood when he visited.
     It was a spirited beast and when Alex went out the gate there was  a clatter of hooves and sparks flew against the iron-shot wheels against the stones.
     "That's the kind of a horse I like to see," Alex would exault, grasping the reins firmly. He was nearing 90.

Cursed Auto.
     Alex was fond of roundly cursing the automobile and its works and people were a little startled when he called on the Lee county board of supervisors one day and gave them a quarter of a million dollars to build a standard, 18-foot paved highway from what is now the junction of Iowa Highway 16 with Highway 218 to Hillsboro nine miles west.
     There were some stipulations. The road had to wind past the old Coleman home, and also past the cemetery in which he planned to be buried.
     As a result the highway lies string-strait for several miles, and then goes through a series of 25 miles-per-hour curves in order to take it past the old home place and the cemetery.
     The highway was completed and dedicated in July, 1928. The neighbors roasted five steers on the old home place and then proceeded down to the east end of the highway, where Alex cut a ribbon stretched across the slab.

Made Speech.
     Alex wore his customary black suit, white shirt, black bow tie and his G.A.R. button. The neighborhood children attended the occasion dressed in white. He made a speech.
     "God bless you, little girls.  When you grow up I will not be here any more."
     Alex rode the length of the pavement in the lead car, one of the few times he ever used his road. Then he went back to his buggy.
     He rarely talked about his road Once he remarked to a friend:
     "I want that to be a monument to my memory. I want all you folks to enjoy it."

Dirt Road.
     Alex made his home in a Fort Madison hotel, but he often returned to visit the Rohdys. He used to spend a lot of time looking up the dirt road which extended up toward his highway three miles away.
     "We never knew what he was thinking," Rohdy recalls. He didn't talk much."
     The Rohdys found out when Alex died at Sacred Heart hospital at Ft. Madison in 1933, at the age of 95.
     He left the balance of his estate, estimated at about $250,000, to build an 18-foot concrete highway from the Rohdy home to the Coleman road.
     Heirs contested the will and when it all was over there was only enough money to build half a highway, a 9-foot slab to the Rohdys'.
     The other half of the road was graded and graveled and there isn't much likelihood of its ever being paved.
     Everybody uses the concrete regardless of which way they are traveling. This results in moments of rare indecision during which opposing drivers decide which is going to take the gravel.
     This doesn't happen very often. For hours at a time the only traffic on the half-highway is rabbits, who like to lope along it and warm their feet on cold, damp days. Quail also seem to enjoy the comfort of the slab.
     The new generation is forgetting Alex. There are a few "Coleman Road" signs on the Highway 16 markers to mark Alex's monument and that's all.
     The highway now is maintained by the state highway commission.
     Following his wishes, Alex was buried in the family lot. Standing by his simple headstone occasional visitors can hear semis grumbling up the grade that takes them past the old home place.
        - Van Buren County Register, Thursday, Aug. 2, 1951.

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