Though the railroad changed the transportation landscape in Ottumwa, there were regular stage coaches coming to town from the 1830s to the 1870s.
Yet the landscape did change, the librarian said. The state Legislature decided that Iowa's primary roads would be the roads from every county seat to Des Moines. Towns with more than 1,000 in population were priorities, too. By 1932, Wapello County's main roads, the equivalent of Highway 63 and Highway 34, were paved. Safety became more important: The year 1932 was the first year drivers needed to get a license. The cost was 25 cents.
Not every change seemed to make a lot of sense, said some of the older audience members.
The librarian agreed, naming the time the highway department started painting center lines on the roads. There had been head-on collisions. Unfortunately, said Christiansen, someone had decided Iowa blacktop would have all its center lines painted black.
"After 1954, they [switched] to yellow lines with reflective material," Christiansen said.
— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark