It’s always puzzled my why US Highway 218 ends at the intersection of US Highway 14 and Steele County Highway 45 along the southern edge of Owatonna. The highway comes up to Owatonna from the south, joins Highway 14, heads west for about one mile and then ends.
It would seem to make more sense for Highway 218 to end when it intersects Highway 14. Why does it jog one mile to the west and then end where it intersects with a county highway?
According to usends.com, a web site dedicated to providing photos and descriptions of US Highway endpoints, Steele Country Highway 45 used to be US Highway 65 which ran through Owatonna all the way up to St. Paul so that is why US Highway 218 ended there. Then at some point US Highway 65 was shortened to end in Albert Lea, south of Owatonna.
USends.com did not explain, however, why US 218 runs north and south since normally it is odd-numbered roads that run north and south.
So what kinds of interesting towns and landmarks are along US Highway 218? Right here in Owatonna we have the Minnesota State Orphanage Museum and the Village of Yesteryear. Owatonna is also home to the largest county fair in Minnesota, the Steele Country Free Fair.
30 miles to the south of Owatonna is the city of Austin, headquarters of Hormel, one of the world’s largest food companies and the maker of Spam. Downtown Austin is the site of the delightful and admission-free Spam Museum.
Crossing over into Iowa the first town one encounters is St. Ansgar, known as the “Garden Spot of Iowa.” About an hour south of St. Ansgar is the city of Nashau, home of the historic Little Brown Church. This small church was made famous by the song “The Church in the Wildwood” written in 1857.
To get to Cedar Rapids, the next major city on US 218, most folks take Interstate 380 which runs parallel to 218 and cuts about half an hour off of the trip. Those who are of Czech descent will want to hop off 218 in Cedar Rapids to explore this city’s rich Czech heritage.
Next stop along 218 is Mt. Pleasant, home of Iowa Wesleyan University. Then it’s 44 miles south to Keokuk, the end of the road for US Highway 218. Keokuk is the southernmost city in Iowa and boasts quite an impressive number of places that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to all of the great cities through which 218 passes, part of the highway is included in the “Avenue of the Saints” a 563 mile road that connects St. Paul, MN with St. Louis, MO.
So that concludes our little tour of US Highway 218 a highway that cuts through the heart of our country.