The city of Clinton, Iowa originally developed as distinct, separated cities and communities along the Mississippi River.  Over the years, the towns grew together and merged.  These were: the city of Lyons, the city of Clinton (originally called “New York”), and the hamlets of Ringwood and Chancy.  Today, all comprise the city of Clinton.

            A treaty signed in 1832 between Chief Keokuk of the Blackhawk Nation and representatives of the United States opened Iowa to settlement.  In 1835, Elijah Buell, a former riverboat pilot, saw a need for a ferry boat service across the Mississippi River and, together with John Baker, located at a spot called “The Narrows” to start such a business.  Baker settled on the Illinois side of the river at what is now Fulton, and Buell established himself on the Iowa side.  In 1837, Buell, along with George Harlan, Dennis Warren, and Chalkeley Hoag, platted a town on Buell’s claim and named it Lyons. The settlement, because of its close proximity to the river ferry, began to develop rapidly.

            In the summer of 1836, Joseph Bartlett settled south of Lyons on the river, driving stakes for a town he called “New York”.  This town would later be renamed “Clinton”.  Bartlett believed that gold deposits abounded in the area, and he prepared for a boom town by opening a store and starting a ferry.  Bartlett soon grew discouraged and sold his assets.  One of the buyers was a man named Randall, who operated a shop selling whiskey, tobacco and other goods.  In 1838-1839, Clinton (as yet, not know by that name) consisted of two stores and a tavern.

            In 1840, the county of Clinton was officially organized and Camanche, down river from “New York”, was the first county seat.  The settlement at New York (Clinton) did not change much in the 1840’s.  Lyons, however, grew.

Lyons Female College, built in 1858 and later Our Lady of Angels Seminary, c. 1889 view.  Now North Side Church of God (107).

            Camanche and Lyons were formidable rivals.  Lyons, named for the city in France, was expected to be a huge metropolitan center.  By 1852, stage coach lines connected Lyons with Davenport to the south, Iowa City to the west, and Dubuque to the north.  Also in 1852, the citizens of Lyons were excited at the prospect of a railroad to be built westward from Lyons.  Unfortunately, H. P. Adams, who formed the Lyons and Iowa Central Railroad Company, could not follow through with his plans and his failed railroad venture became known as the “Caloco Line”.  However, the prospects of a railroad had sparked growth in Lyons.  The population of about 200 in 1852 mushroomed to 5,000 by 1858.  The first sawmill in Lyons was built by Samuel Cox and G. W. Stumbaugh in 1855.  David Joice (Joyce) and S. I. Smith put up a large mill in 1869.

            With the 1855 announcement that a railroad was to cross the Mississippi several miles south of Lyons at Little rock Island in the river, the Iowa Land Company was organized.  This company purchased Bartlett’s original tract opposite Little Rock Island, re-platted the town of “New York”, and renamed it Clinton in honor of DeWitt Clinton, Governor of the State of New York.  This plat of the city was surveyed under the direction of Charles B. Stuart, a civil engineer from New York, with the assistance of William Rumble, engineer, and C. I. Loring, draftsman.  The company’s Iowa Central Hotel and Block (now demolished) was the first substantial structure in Clinton.  The Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska (C&IN) Railroad was formed with the intent to cross the river at Clinton.

            The year of 1856 was one of rapid expansion in Clinton with growth to a population of 1,000 as the C&IN Railroad was in the early stages of construction.  The railroad continued to expand and its impact began to shape the community. 


View, c. 1889, of office building for Gardiner, Batchelder and Welles lumber mill in Lyons.  The building (130) is still standing, although now altered.

            At noon on January 19, 1860, the first train crossed the bridge at Clinton. However, a ferry boat was required to complete the link across the main channel from Little Rock Island to Clinton until a major bridge span was constructed in 1864.  Also in 1864, the C & IN Railroad merged with Galena & Chicago Union Railroad to form the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW).  In 1868, a branch line was built to connect Lyons with the railroad at Clinton.  In 1870, the Iowa Midland Company was built from Lyons to Anamosa, Iowa and later was absorbed by the C&NW Railroad in 1884.

            In 1869, the county seat was moved to Clinton from DeWitt (DeWitt has succeeded Camanche as the county seat).  A frame court house, designed by Clinton Architect W. W. Sanborn, was built on land donated by the Iowa Land Company on the north side of Clinton near Lyons.

            The first of many sawmills to be built in Clinton was opened in 1856 by Charles Lombard with a capacity of 5,000 feet of lumber per day.  Later in the nineteenth century, Clinton became known as the capital of the sawmill industry.  Farming and agriculturally related industries also supported the community’s growth and became more important as time passed..  Clinton was incorporated as a city in 1857.  In the 1850’s four men moved to Clinton, who were to play a vital role in the city’s growth: W. F. Coan, W. J. Young, Chancy Lamb, and David Joyce.  Coan, who came to Clinton in 1865, almost immediately engaged in the banking business.  Young built the first of the great lumber mills with which the family name became identified.  Lamb founded the Lamb lumber mills in 1857 and Joyce laid the foundation for the lumber firm which bore his name. 

Residence of Will T. Joyce, c. 1889 view.  Although altered, the building still remains an important residential landmark. (109)

            The lumber industry continued to expand at a remarkable pace.  The Curtis brothers (141) started business in 1866, producing window sash, doors, blinds, and moldings; this company played an important part in Clinton’s economy for 100 years.  A competitor of Curtis was the Disbrow Company (113) of Lyons, who would later relocate to Omaha, Nebraska.

            The first plant for the manufacture of illuminating gas and the first gas mains for its distribution were constructed in 1868 by the Clinton Gas Light and Coke Company.  Because of the distance between Clinton and Lyons, a horse and mule railway was started to connect the two towns.  On December 6, 1869, the first car ran over this line for some two and three-quarters miles between the Lyons Ferry and the corner of 8th Avenue South and 2nd Street at the railroad tracks in Clinton.  In 1873, the Clinton Water Works Company was formed; it was granted a franchise in 1874.  The Lyons Water Works, originally constructed under a franchise granted in 1875, was absorbed by the Clinton Water Works in 1891 when the two systems combined.

            The oldest church in Clinton is St. Irenaeus Catholic Church (127), founded in 1852 by Bishop Loras.  The city’s first Catholic priest was the Reverend Frederick Cyrillys Jean, who was born in France.  Today, the city has about forty churches, including a Spiritualist congregation.  The Iowa Conference of Spiritualists, organized in Ottumwa, Iowa, bought a twenty-acre tract in Clinton called Mt. Pleasant Park.  It became a meeting ground and home of the Mississippi Valley Spiritualist Association (57).

            The Clinton Herald, which was founded in 1856, became a daily newspaper in 1870.  It once was edited by Charles E. Leonard, the father of Clinton’s most famous native, Lillian Russell.

            In 1872, the Chicago, Clinton and Dubuque Railroad, later to become part of the Milwaukee Road, was built north of Lyons; it was extended south to Clinton in 1880.  The Davenport, Rock Island & Northwestern, last of the railroads in Clinton was completed in 1901 with a line along the river to the Quad Cities which allowed other railroads access to Clinton, via trackage rights  An electric interurban company, the Clinton, Davenport and Muscatine Railway, also operated from Clinton; it ceased operations in 1940.

            The small settlement of Chancy on the southwest side of Clinton was annexed to the city in 1892 after the village of Ringwood, located between Clinton and Lyons, had been annexed to Clinton, in 1878.  Finally, in 1895, Lyons became part of Clinton.  In 1927, the names of streets and addresses in the city were changed to eliminate the continued confusion of duplications that resulted after the merger of Lyons with Clinton.

            The combination of geography and the east-west C&NW Railroad mainline crossing the river at Clinton promoted the location and development of the lumber industry.  Log rafts were floated down the river from the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota to be cut into lumber at Clinton and shipped west on the railroad to settlements of the nearly treeless prairies of Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado.  The lumber mills, all along the river, were: Gardiner, Batchelder and Welles, with two mills in north Lyons; Joyce Lumber Company, in Lyons; and, in Clinton, the following: Clinton Lumber Company; W. J. Young with two mills; and, C. Lamb and Sons with four mills.

            These lumber barons and their families contributed much of the social glitter to Clinton as well as providing much of the leadership and financial resources for virtually every civic enterprise during the formative years of Clinton’s history.  The homes the lumber barons built were showplaces of elegance.  Rare woods and marble were imported from Europe for interior trim.  The furnishings included works of art brought to Clinton from eastern merchandise centers.  Social affairs vied with those of Chicago and other metropolitan cities for lavishness.  As many as ten servants were employed in the homes of the wealthy, and the preparation of food for dinner parties was catered out from Chicago.  It was not unusual for some member of the “400” to give luncheons ranging up to nine courses.  A number of families maintained palatial house boats which were used for parties and cruises on the river.

            Chancy and Jane Lamb lived at 7th Avenue and 3rd St. in a house that no longer stands.  Their sons, Artemus, lived at 4th Street and 5th Avenue, the present site of the Travelodge motel; the house of another son, Lafayette, is now the Y.W.C.A. (Note: Jane Lamb Hospital, founded in 1889, (69) is named for Chancy Lamb’s wife, Jane.)

            They Joyce family lived in a home on North 3rd Street (109) with curved plate glass windows and rounded turrets.  After they moved, the house stppd empty for years except for annual meeting of the family company, until in 1875, May and Mrs. Dwain Walters bought it from Beatrice Joyce Kean.

            After 1893 depression, and with depletion of the forests of the north woods, mill activity slowed and by 1897, most of Clinton’s mills had closed.  Practically overnight, 5,000 of the 22,000 population left the city.  Between 1896 and 1906, fewer than twenty houses were built in Clinton.  The last log raft arrived from the north in 1906, and millwork and furniture manufacturing then superseded the sawmills.  The business leaders of the city were active in promoting and recruiting new industries and soon the city regained its vitality through industrial diversification. 


            In 1907, a manufacturing and heavy industrial movement began with location of the Clinton Corn Processing Company.  By 1920, Swift and Company, the Collis Company, and Climax (now Waukesha) Engine Manufacturing Company, had located in Clinton where they still remain important to the local economy.  Many other companies located in Clinton, as well.

            Today, Clinton is mainly an industrial and railroad center, although the river is still important.  Clinton has one of the longest riverfronts of any city on the Mississippi—more than six miles—and river traffic is increasing.  Barge-loading facilities in Beaver Slough and a municipal dock make Clinton the receiver for commodities like the winter street salt supplies for surrounding towns.

            The population of Clinton is now 34,719 (1970 census) 2utg a deceivingly low density because of the great area within the city limits.  And annexation of twenty-two square miles in 1967 pushed the city limits almost to Low Moor on the west and to Camanche on the south.  However, the bulk of the population (and with a more urban density) is within the old, traditional city boundaries of Lyons and Clinton.  The following table, Census Population of Clinton, summarizes the growth patterns of Clinton:


Year Clinton Lyons
1850   453
1860 1,816 2,703
1870 7,970 4,477
1880 10,054 3,425
1890 14,658 5,799
1890 22,698  
1910 25,577  
1920 24,151  
1930 25,726  
1940 26,270  
1950 30,379  
1960 33,589  
1970 34,719  

SOURCE: Department of Community Development, City of Clinton, Clinton, Iowa, An Architectural Heritage (1980)