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Kay Luna

CLINTON, Iowa — The sprawling Clinton mansion had plenty of room for Artemus Lamb and his wife to host 350 dinner guests for food and wine catered in from Chicago and St. Louis, and dancing in a grand ballroom on the third floor.

The party was spectacular, but not unusual in 1885, when Clinton was known for its mansions and millionaires and lumber barons like Lamb, who helped shape the beginning of this riverfront city.

Clinton was founded 150 years ago in a booming economy, with lumber mills and railroad ventures pumping money into the pockets of its richest residents. The climate also created plenty of jobs at the mills, which covered nearly every property along the Mississippi River.

"In 1890, Clinton had more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world," historian Jan Hansen said, describing how logs from northern states were floated downriver to sawmills in Clinton.

"It lasted about 20 years," she said. "It was very short-lived."

Clinton's first economic successes might not have lasted, but their legacy did.

As the city prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial in June, event organizers are including a focus on Clinton's prominent founding families — and many of their lavish homes and property that remain.

Trolley tours of nearly 40 historic homes are scheduled June 11 and 18, with the second date already sold out. Other special events also are scheduled in June.

Some of Clinton's old millionaire mansions still stand on 5th, 6th and 7th avenues in downtown Clinton, which once served as the center of elite social life.

Clinton City Council member and historian Mike Kearney said he has done extensive research into Clinton's lumber barons and their families, counting Chancy Lamb and his descendants as some of the most important figures in the city's history.

Lamb and his sons, Artemus and Lafayette, owned four Clinton sawmills in the mid-1800s. Their empire grew to become the largest mill company on the Mississippi River, according to the 2003 book "Images of America: Clinton, Iowa."

Chancy Lamb also kept busy elsewhere in the community, managing the fire department from 1874 to 1879 and serving as a city council member. He also helped found the Tri-City Telephone Co., served as a bank president and worked as secretary and treasurer of Clinton Gas Light Co.

Some might recognize his link to the former Jane Lamb Hospital, which is now Mercy Medical Center-Clinton. The old Agatha Hospital, where Chancy Lamb served as a trustee, was renamed in honor of his wife.

His daughter, Emma Lamb Young, is the namesake of Clinton's Emma Young Pond and donated property for Clinton's Carnegie Library.

Kearney said Chancy Lamb's mansion is now gone, but the property houses the YWCA of Clinton's eastern expansion. Lafayette Lamb's home is the preserved mansion that makes up part of the YWCA's offices at 317 7th Ave. S. in downtown Clinton.

The huge mansion owned by Artemus Lamb — where a magnificent party was held for his 20th wedding anniversary — stood at the corner of 5th Avenue South and 4th Street. It was torn down in the 1920s to make way for First Presbyterian Church.

"The family had an enormous impact on the community," Kearney said.

Another important lumber baron was W.J. Young. He operated two sawmills, including one opened in 1858 near the Union Pacific Railroad bridge, according to documents at Clinton County Historical Museum.

In 1860, he enlarged the mill. Young's "Big Mill," as it was called, was considered the largest sawmill in the world at the time. Large galleries allowed visitors to watch the milling process, Clinton's history book says.

Just one of Young's houses still stands on the southeast corner of 5th Avenue South and South 6th Street, Kearney said.

Until the 1950s, Young's most impressive 1800s-era mansion took up the corner of 7th Avenue South and 4th Street. The house had three stories, two wine cellars, a built-in pipe organ and an elevator to all floors, according to museum records.

"It was more huge than you can imagine," Kearney said. "Today if we had a building like that in town, it would be a major tourist attraction."

One such attraction is the George Curtis mansion, home of the Clinton Women's Club on 5th Avenue South. Tours and special events are offered at the mansion, showcasing the family that founded Clinton's famous Curtis Lumber Co. in the 1860s.

The Curtis Co. created molding, cabinets, doors and other fixtures for houses.

Meanwhile, David Joyce was making a name for himself for the mill he ran on Ringwood Slough, which is now called Joyce's Slough in his honor.

Joyce Lumber Co. was just one piece of Joyce's lumber empire, which stretched into Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas and Louisiana, historians say.

Clinton can thank Joyce's millions for the creation of Eagle Point Park, a huge outdoor oasis overlooking Mississippi River bluffs on the north edge of Clinton. He bought 100 acres of land from Elijah Buell in 1888, creating the park that later was sold to the City of Clinton.

One of David Joyce's homes still stands near the Clinton County Administration Building, and his original lumber mill office is on North 2nd Street, Kearney said.

"There are homes all over town with some great stories to tell," he said.

Kay Luna can be contacted at

(563) 243-5039 or kluna@qctimes.com.

YWCA celebrates, too

A party to celebrate the YWCA of Clinton's 90th birthday — and the historic Lafayette Lamb mansion that houses part of the Y — will be observed during Clinton's sesquicentennial celebration.

Tours, free classes and an ice cream social will be 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, at 317 7th Ave. S.

For more information, call YWCA Executive Director Lori Freudenberg at (563) 242-2110.

For more information about Clinton's tour of homes in June, call the YWCA or Joan Ullrich at (563) 243-2178.

IF YOU GO

Clinton's 150th birthday celebration will kick off June 5 and run all month. Here are highlights of activities:

June 5 — Trees Forever ribbon-cutting at 3:30 p.m.; military ceremony at 3:45 p.m., parade at 4 p.m.

June 9 — King and Queen contest at 6:30 p.m. at Masonic Temple.

June 10 — Ringwood Ice Cream Social from 6-9 p.m. at Hawthorne Park.

June 11 — '50s Sock Hop from 7:30-10 p.m. at Clinton YWCA. 

June 12 — South Clinton Park event from 1-4 p.m.

June 17 — Lyons street dance at 7 p.m.

June 18 — Tour of Homes at 12:30 p.m., Lyons Frontier Days (Saturday and Sunday) and Art in the Park.

June 21-22 — "Clinton Cavalcade — A Musical Review" at 7:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School Auditorium.

June 23-26 — Balloons in June.

June 25 — Eagle Point to South Clinton Run at 8 a.m.; Tour of Homes  at 12:30-3:30 p.m.; Chancy Park Ice Cream Social from 5-8 p.m.

June 26 — Closing ceremonies at 1:30 p.m. at Alliant Energy Field, followed by Old Timers Baseball Game at 2 p.m. with LumberKings vs. Kane County.

For more information about these and other sesquicentennial events, visit the Web site at www.clinton150years.com.

A HISTORY LESSON

The earliest days of what is now the City of Clinton actually began well before 150 years ago. The Lyons District, in the north end, came first with the arrival of Elijah Buell in 1835. He helped plat the town of Lyons.

Meanwhile, what is now the central area of the city was home to a few settlers in a hamlet called New York.

On May 26, 1855, the Iowa Land Co. was organized and purchased the townsite along the Mississippi River on July 4, renaming it Clinton after the former governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton. By August of that year, land was cleared for laying the cornerstone of the Iowa Central hotel, the Episcopal church and the school. The original plat of the town of Clinton, Iowa, was signed on Nov. 10, 1855.

Between Lyons and New York lay another town, Ringwood, located between present-day 7th Avenue North and 13th Avenue North. It was incorporated in 1873, when a streetcar line started running between Clinton and Lyons. The town of Ringwood was annexed to Clinton in 1878.

Chancy, a settlement on the south side of Clinton, was annexed to the city in 1892.

The city of Lyons consolidated with Clinton in 1894.

Sources: "Images of America: Clinton, Iowa," 2003 and www.clinton150years.com.

 

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