Clinton's History and Growth

Clinton, Iowa is a city in eastern Iowa with a current population of 24,469 residents. The land that encompasses the state of Iowa and current day Clinton was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. In September 1832 the U.S. Government purchased about 6 million acres of land in eastern Iowa from the Sac/Fox Indian tribes. At this time there were an estimated 15,000 native American Indians living in the state of Iowa.

Known at the Black Hawk Purchase the government paid about $640,000 dollars for this land or about 11 cents per acre. In June of 1833 the government allow settlers for the first time to homestead on this land.

Several early settlers moved into this portion of eastern Iowa with the hopes of land acquisitions and business opportunities. Elijah Buell 1835 settled at Lyons Iowa. John Baker 1835 settled at Fulton, IL Both recognized that the “Narrows” on the river would make a great place for their business and ferry boat operation. Dr. George Peck 1836 viewed Camanche as being the ideal place to own land and a ferry boat.

Soon after Clinton was platted by Joseph Bartlett in 1836. Bartlett believed that the region was rich with gold deposits. Bartlett operated a trading post and a ferry boat operation. Bartlett laid claim to hundreds of acres and platted the land near the river into town lots. He called the place New York.

Bartlett’s gold deposits never materialized. In 1938 Bartlett sold most of his land assets to Captain R.G. Pearce, Colonel Jennings, and Colonel Randall. In 1839 the future area that would become Clinton consisted of a few cabins, two stores and a tavern. The area was slow to develop and did not change much in the 1840’s.

The Iowa Land Co. purchased 500 acres of Bartlett’s former land in 1855. In August the company platted the land and started to sell lots. November 10, 1855, the first plat of the city of Clinton was signed. Surveyors were Charles B. Stuart and William Rumble.  On January 26, 1857 the city was granted a charter.

The future of Clinton was secured by location, location, & location. First the River Boats & Ferry Boats transported the early settlers and their goods to the Clinton area. Next came the Railroads and the Lumber Industry. The main route for westward railroad expansion went directly through Clinton and across Iowa. Soon the goal would be the west coast. In 1913 highway 30 the first transcontinental highway, came thru Clinton.  

Black and White Photo of Joyce Lumber Mill
Black and White Photo of Joyce Lumber Co Office Building on 2nd Street

Today, Clinton has a Mayor / Council form of government. The city is a full service government with a Police, Fire, Transit, Public Works, Building Inspection, Finance, Engineering & Parks departments. The Community also has a Library, & Airport. A city administrator is employed by the city council to run day-to-day affairs.

W. Harlock Lyons-Fulton Ferry

Black and White Photo of the W. Harlock Lyons-Fulton Ferry

Lyons Waterfront with the W. Harlock Ferry at the Dock

Black and White Photo of the Lyons Waterfront with the W. Harlock Ferry at the Dock

Ferry Boats 1835 – 1855: Buell and Baker knew the “Narrows” on the Mississippi river was an ideal place to operate a ferry boat. Land grants, low priced land and business opportunities all contributed to early growth for settlers moving into the area. River boats and local ferry boats provided the main source of transportation and goods at that time. The rapid growth from the 1855 arrival of the railroads and the sawmill industries was about to take place bringing thousands of new people, new jobs, and new business opportunities to the area.

Pioneer Engine Heading to Clinton

Black and White Photo of Pioneer Engine heading to Clinton

Railroads 1855 – 1870: In 1855 the Galena & Chicago Union railroad arrived in Fulton, IL. Westward travel on the G&CU railroad from Chicago to Fulton was now possible. Another key event in 1855 shows the eastern investors of the Iowa Land Company purchased most of Bartlett’s original land, re-platted the site, and changed the name from New York to Clinton. Talk of railroad fever and western expansion was in the air.  

1856: The Chicago Iowa & Nebraska railroad was formed by most of the same people that owned the Iowa Land Company. Clinton’s population quickly grew to over 1000 people. The CI&N railroad soon started laying rail to Cedar Rapids. In 1857 the CI&N people formed the Albany Bridge Company and leased the ABC to the CI&N railroad. In 1858 the CI&N railroad started construction two miles south of Fulton, on the 1400 ft. bridge that would cross the east channel of the Mississippi River to Little Rock Island.

1859: The east bridge was completed. The G&CU now ran from Fulton to Little Rock Island. Passengers and merchandise were then transferred to the CI&N ferry boat from Little Rock Island to the Clinton, CI&N railroad depot that was located at the foot of 4th, Avenue south on the river.

1864: Soon, a series of railroad merges and leases occurred that resulted in the CI&N railroad merging with the G&CU. On February 15, 1865 the G&CU railroad was acquired by the Chicago & Northwestern railroad.  

January 6, 1865: The bridge was completed across the west channel of the Mississippi River by the CI&N railroad and the first trains to cross the river arrived in Clinton. Note: The Civil War started in April 1861 and ended in April 1865 westward progress proceeded slowing during this time. Once the Clinton bridge was operational and the Civil War was over western railroad expansion and travel accelerated quickly.

Railroad Bridge

Black and White Photo of the Railroad Bridge

January 22, 1867: The race across Iowa was over and the Chicago & Northwestern railroad had completed the journey to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The C&NW would soon have more track in Iowa than any other railroad.

May 1869: The Union Pacific / Central Pacific railroad transcontinental line from San Francisco to Omaha was completed. The C&NW transcontinental now ran from Chicago to Omaha and the west coast. This new line would dominate passenger and freight traffic across America for the next 90 years. Clinton played an important part on this strategically important shipping route and was a key division point on the C&NW railroad.

Sawmills & Lumber 1865 – 1900: The lumber industry in the great lakes area grew rapidly during the second half of the 19th century. Sawmills and lumber related businesses sprang up in nearly every town and city in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Soon the sawmills appeared along the Mississippi River. Clinton was a community that quickly capitalized and expanded from the lumber industry mainly because of its vital rail service.

1854/1855: George W. Stumbaugh is credited with opening Lyons’ first sawmill. Other companies that entered the business included Chancy Lamb and W.J. Young at Clinton in the 1850’s. David Joyce came to Lyons 1856. Wadleigh, Welles, & Company in Lyons later became Gardiner, Batchcldcr & Welles. Clinton Lumber Company was started. Culbertson & Smith had a sawmill in Fulton. The lumber & sawmill industry continued to grow in the area.

1869: Iowa ranked ninth among states in lumber production. Clinton produced more than 60 million feet of lumber, 24 million. shingles, and 14 million laths that year. No city on the Mississippi south of St. Paul produced more. Clinton was ideal situated with rail service going east to Chicago and to the west coast. Numerous secondary businesses developed in Clinton related to the lumber and railroad industry.

With the growth of the sawmill firms, there arose machine shops, cabinet shops, wagon factories, planning mills, box factories, and furniture factories. Clinton also had Curtis Brothers Company, manufacturers of sash, doors, blinds, moldings, stairwork, and other wood finishings. Clinton became a thriving community with a strong railroad, lumber, and sawmill industry.

1870: Clinton manufactured approximately 72 to 80 million feet of lumber. This exceeded every city on the Mississippi except Minneapolis. The sawmills furnished more employment in Clinton than any other industry. Clinton's population in 1870 was 6,129 people,'" and approximately 800 men worked in the mills. In the 1880’s W.J. Young’s updated mill had a record sawing capacity of 450,000 board ft. per eight-hour shift. Clinton's population in 1890 was 13,619 and more than 1000 workers were employed in the Chancy Lamb mills.

1870 to 1900: During this time period the foundation for the city having strong growth was established. Clinton had a water company. Gas and electricity. Street Cars. Ringwood was annexed 1878. Clinton & Lyons telephone company 1878. The Fulton / Lyons bridge was built 1891. The Clinton high bridge 1892. Chancy was annexed 1892. Agatha Hospital 1889. The 1894 annexation of Lyons. Wartburg College. Iten Bakery & Cracker Factory came to Clinton. George Wilson acquired the Clinton Bridge Works. Numerous small businesses and retail shops opened. Jobs and business opportunities were here.

1900 – 1945: The 1893 – 1897 depression hit. It was wide spread with many causes. There was a run-on gold. The railroads had over built. The upper Midwest Logging Industry was coming to an end. The last logging raft arrived in Clinton in 1906. Most of the sawmills and lumber yards on the Mississippi were closing down. The end of the sawmill industry in Clinton was near. Economic pain was everywhere. The United States would soon face two wars in Europe. The great depression would last from 1929 until 1941. How would Clinton respond?  

Clinton business leaders and community leaders faced the challenges head on. They focused on attracting new industrial and new manufacturing companies. The retail sector transformed into new downtown development. New construction started on the Wilson Building, the Van Allen Building, the Howes Building, the Weston Building, the Lafayette Hotel, and the Coliseum Building. All contributed significantly to increased downtown growth. Clinton’s population in 1900 soon grew from about 22,500 to around 25,500 in 1910.

Pioneer Locomotive on 5th Avenue South

Historic Black and White Image of 5th Avenue South with a Pioneer Locomotive in the Street

More development came from new and existing companies like Clinton Corn, Central Steel in Camanche, Collis, Curtis Company, Lubbers & Bell, Swift Company, Clinton Lock Company, and the Clinton Bridge Works all added new employees. New housing units exploded. Schools were constructed throughout the community. Clinton had several hundred acres of parks. The 1930 swimming pool and the 1938 Midwest League Baseball Stadium only added to summer fun in Clinton. Clintonians met the challenges of two depressions and two world wars head on with vision, persistence, and hard work.  

1945 into the Twenty-first Century Industrial & Retail Growth: The wars in Europe were over. The men and women that would make up the “Great Generation” would come home and rebuild. The automobile factories started up again. College enrollment started to increase. The Interstate highway system was being built. Shopping centers were springing up across the country. Satellites were flying into orbit.

Clinton businesses and stores regrouped in the downtown area. DuPont built a new plant in Camanche. Walgreens, J.C. Penney, Klines, Woolworths, and Wards were all open downtown. Sears built a new store. New banks popped up downtown. Rastrelli’s moved to Lyons. McEleney Motors in Lyons was humming with new business. The C&NW built a massive car repair shop in Clinton. Once again Clinton was busy.  

Over the years the population in Clinton has bounced up and down. The city’s population peaked in 1970 at 34,719 and today is around 24,412.  The economy of Clinton employs around 11,400 people. The largest industry employing people is manufacturing 2,397 people. Health Care and Social Assistance employ 1997 people. Retail employs 1573 people. There are several major industries located in the community. There is a stable workforce with a demand for new employees.

Today the city has made recent investments in numerous new schools. The city has a 300-acre Industrial Park. The city has invested heavily in new streets and roads. There is a new storm water system, sewer system, and treatment plant.  Developers have invested heavily in recent years in new rental housing in the western part of the community and the downtown area. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the historic downtown.

Clinton’s Parks are second to none with a first-class swimming pool. There is a great baseball stadium. Summertime theatrical productions are held on a former riverboat. A beautiful marina and RV campground next to the best river view in America. The walking & biking trails are outstanding. A county museum and a Sawmill Museum. There are 17 Historic Buildings listed on the National Historic Register of Places. Visitors and tourist are welcome in Clinton where they offer the best in Midwest living with a wide variety of things to do.

1956 South Bridge in Clinton

Black and White Photo of 1956 New Clinton Bridge next to 1909 Railroad Bridge

1954 DeWitt Park and City Hall

Black and White Aerial Image of DeWitt Park and the Old City Hall in 1954

Information provided by: Gateway History Club