The “Micropolitan Area” of the City of Clinton, Iowa

The City of Clinton might still be a small hamlet named New York if it were not for geographical good fortune.  Platted as the town of New York in 1836 by its first settler, Joseph Bartlett, the community was one of several that clustered on the west bank of the Mississippi.  Others were Lyons, Ringwood, Chancy and Camanche.

The fledgling settlement had little hope of growth.  In 1839, it consisted of a sprinkling of cabins, two stores and a tavern.  Lyons, to the north, where a ferry had already been established, grew at a healthy pace.  And in 1840, when the county was formally organized, the town of Camanche became its governmental seat.

Throughout the 1840’s, New York changed little while communities around it continued to develop.  However, in 1855, the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad changed its plans and announced it would cross the river at Little Rock Island adjacent to Bartlett’s settlement, instead of at Lyons.  A land company bought Bartlett’s tract and renamed it Clinton, in honor of Clinton DeWitt, governor of New York State.  From that date on, Clinton grew, in time absorbing Ringwood, Chancy and Lyons, and becoming the Clinton County seat, as well.

Before the white man came to the area, an Indian village occupied the site of Fulton, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.  Portions of it were probably still there when John Baker, the community’s first settler, arrived in 1835.  As late as 1882, small patches of Indian corn could still be found.  Fulton City was organized in 1855, named after Robert Fulton, and it received its charter as the City of Fulton in 1859.  The Mississippi has been both a mentor and an adversary for the micropolitan area and was an important port during the heyday of the riverboats.  The river still serves as a major transportation route.  But throughout its history, flooding of the river has plagued the area.  until a protective dike system was built.

In those early years of the 19th century, not everyone could afford passage on the steamboats which paddled the Mississippi bringing goods and people to Clinton County.  Some rode wagons, other horses, and many walked the miles.  Among the walkers in 1935 was Dr. George Peck.  When he came upon a high bluff on the west river bank, he thought it ideal for a great and set about platting it.  He named his town after an Indian tribe, but misspelled it.  Camanche, with its erroneous “a”, was born.  That same year, Martin Dunning came out from Chicago with a load of general merchandise and became the first businessman to settle in Camanche.  Peck’s investment was secured when Albany, Illinois was platted across the river and a ferry to Camanche was established.  

Between the late 1850’s and 1900. Clinton was regarded as the sawmill capital of the nation.  Huge log rafts were floated down river from Wisconsin and Minnesota, cut into lumber at Clinton, then shipped to growing communities east, west, north and south, via the river and the railroads.  In 1865, the sawmills of Clinton, Lyons, and Camanche produced 21.5 million board feet of lumber.  By 1892, production had risen to more than 195 million board feet.

Lumbermen, W.J. Young, Chancy Lamb and David Joyce were counted among the 13 millionaires residing in Clinton during one period and were among the city’s most influential leaders.  These families and others who gained great wealth during the era constructed magnificent mansions along 5th, 6th and 7th avenues in Clinton.  That small area became the center of elite social life.  Elaborate and festive dinner parties were frequent, often catered out of Chicago.  Luncheons planned by the wives could run to as many as nine courses.  

This era of opulence came to an end by 1900.  The forests of the north were depleted and the sawmills faded and eventually closed.  Practically overnight one quarter of the city’s 22,000 inhabitants departed for opportunities elsewhere.

Once again, the geography of its location aided the Gateway Area.  The railroad and the river provided economical transportation in all directions, attracting manufacturing and heavy industry to the communities.  Since the early years of this century, Clinton and the micropolitan area has prospered as an industrial center, with a steadily growing and diverse list of products and services which it delivers to all parts of the nation and the world.

Information provided by: Gateway History Club