Following the end of the “Blackhawk War,” the U.S. government opened up the west bank of the Mississippi River for European settlement. Almost immediately, a number of pioneers established fledgling towns in what is now Iowa.
Elijah Buell came up from St. Louis, and on July 25, 1835, founded the town of Lyons, named after Lyon, France. St. Irenaeus church, established in 1848 in Lyons, was named after the second bishop of Lyon, France. Lyons grew at a healthy pace and was first a mill town with grain and flour mills before being recognized for its lumber potential.
His friend John Baker, another one of the first settlers to this region, arrived on the east banks of the Mississippi River in 1835. He chose the location because the bottomlands were good hunting grounds and the Mississippi River was narrow enough for easy crossing. Originally called Baker’s Ferry, the town’s name was soon changed to Fulton in honor of inventor/engineer Robert Fulton. Fulton, situated on a narrow spot on the river, was a prime crossing to westward migration and ferries ran between the Illinois and Iowa banks for many years. Fulton drew many nationalities of people, initially Irish, but those from the Netherlands were especially drawn to it because of its position on the Mississippi. Soon, many Dutch families were living in the area.
In the early 1800s, not everyone could afford passage on the steamboats, which paddled the Mississippi to bring goods and people to Clinton County. Some came by horse-drawn wagons; others walked many miles. Dr. George Peck was among those walkers in 1835. As he was walking across a high bluff on the west riverbank, he thought it ideal for a great city 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 arrived 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. Camanche was the first governmental seat when the county was formally organized in 1840. Camanche was incorporated by an act of the legislature passed January 28, 1857 with a special charter, and is one of only four remaining cities in Iowa that still has its charter.
The City of Clinton was once a small hamlet named New York. Platted in 1836 by its first settler, Joseph Bartlett, the community was one of several that clustered on the western banks of the Mississippi River. Other communities included Lyons, Ringwood, Riverside (Chancy) and Camanche. In 1837, Noble Perrin arrived with his family and built a cabin about where the current railroad bridge comes ashore. His wife soon gave birth to the first white female born in the county. The fledgling settlement had little hope of growth. In 1839, it consisted of a few cabins, two stores and a tavern. Throughout the 1840s, 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. The Iowa Land Company then bought Bartlett’s tract and renamed it Clinton, in honor of DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York state. Clinton grew to absorb Ringwood, Riverside (Chancy) and Lyons, and eventually became the seat of Clinton County.
Up until 1890, Clinton (including Lyons) had a population larger than Los Angeles, California. Between the late 1850s and 1900, the Clinton area 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 and then shipped out 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, David Joyce, Silas Gardiner, Lauren Eastman and George M. and Charles F. Curtis were counted among the 13 millionaires residing in Clinton during one period and were among the city’s more influential leaders. The wealthy of this era constructed magnificent mansions along 5th, 6th and 7th avenues in Clinton, making that area the center of elite social life. The geography of its location aided the River City 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 the 20th century, Clinton, Camanche and Fulton have prospered as an industrial center, with a steadily growing and diverse list of products and services.
Historical Places of Interest
Illustrating the history of our community, the Clinton County Historical Society Museum tells the story of our early settlers along the Mississippi River and the booming lumber business. The museum was established in 1965 to promote and preserve the history of Clinton County and offers a research library containing information, photographs, artifacts, memorabilia, period furniture, authentic 1924 kitchen and the “Resolute,” one of only three manually powered fire engines on display in the world. The Clinton Historical Society is located along the banks of the Mississippi River in Clinton.
Want to learn more about our early settlers and see how they lived? Visit the Martin House Museum and the Curtis Mansion/Clinton Women’s Club. The Martin House Museum serves as the Fulton Historical Society and reflects life during the Civil War Era. The museum houses several antiques, a genealogy research room and various Fulton memorabilia.
The Curtis Mansion/Clinton Women’s Club is a restored Victorian home of Lumber Baron George M. Curtis and is located in historic downtown Clinton. The home is an example of period architecture with its original Tiffany glass windows, delicately carved banisters, ornate wood trim and massive fireplaces. Rich in the history of the area, this mansion houses the Clinton Women’s Club, which offers a variety of activities throughout the year and makes an elegant backdrop for special events.
Take a tour of Heritage Canyon, a 12-acre wooded nature walk nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River in the heart of Fulton, Illinois. Heritage Canyon reincarnates the 1800s with reproductions and restored buildings setting the mood of an earlier day when settlers staked claim to this land.
Learn more about the Dutch heritage by visiting Fulton’s authentic Dutch Windmill, “De Immigrant,” which was constructed on the flood controlled dike in the heart of Fulton. The windmill was engineered and pre-fabricated in the Netherlands and shipped to the U.S. in containers by ship, rail and truck transportation. Dutch millwrights and masons traveled to the U.S. on three separate occasions and rebuilt the windmill in Fulton. Fulton’s authentic Dutch Windmill, “De Immigrant,” serves as Fulton’s Welcome Center and celebrates Fulton’s Dutch history.
The Camanche Depot and Museum provides a glimpse of history aboard a fully restored 1951 Milwaukee/Soo Line caboose and railroad depot. Built in 1899 and located in the heart of Camanche, this museum houses collections from Camanche’s past, including a veteran’s list of past and present military personnel.