By the Parky Pundit
Clinton, Iowa. My hometown. Birthplace of legends. Former gateway to the West. They still refer to themselves as “The Gateway City.”
The history is so thick, you can smell it. Literally.
The Archer-Daniels-Midland plant, formerly known as Clinton Corn Processing, a place where even the dullest dullard could find good steady work… before NAFTA. It’s thick, white smoke plumes can been seen for miles as it fills the air with the smell of processed grain being turned into alcohol and other products.
Right to the south, that other, less “friendly” smell? That’s National By-Products where dead farm animals are taken to be skinned, scraped, boned and boiled.
Keep heading south on US Highway 61. You’ll smell something vaguely familiar. Dry dog food? Yes. Ralston-Purina, now known as Nestle Purina Pet Care , bakes up its dry dog food there in the Manufacturing Park.
Known by local wags as “The City of Seven Smells,” (the various chemical processing plants between Clinton and neighboring Camanche make up the other four odors that permeate the air) Clinton is adding a NEW smell to its olfactory opus.
Once the home of millionaire lumber barons (the local Class A minor league baseball team is called “The LumberKings), once boasting more millionaires per capita than an
y other municipality in the nation, Clinton finds itself with NEW honors heaped upon it.
Birthplace of 19th century actress Lillian Russell, Barnum & Bailey’s most famous clown Felix Adler, Washington, DC radio legend Chris Core… and me — Clinton is now also the birthplace of a new FRIED CHICKEN DYNASTY!
Chicken eaters of Clinton? Meet Flava Flav and FFC Chicken!
Clinton, Iowa. Incorporated on January 26, 1857 (I was born there 22 days shy of 98 years later) was originally was platted as the town of New York in 1836. In March 1837 Noble and Sarah Gregory Perrin purchased 136 acres of land in what is now Clinton and raised their family in a cabin located approximately at the foot of the railroad bridge. Their oldest daughter, Valeria, married Dr. Augustus Lafayette Ankeny, who participated in the Blackhawk war and came to Lyons in April 1850.
Oh, yes. Lyons, Iowa . First settled in 1835 by pioneer Elijah Buell (who, according to family legend, built the small house along the Mississippi River that my grandfather purchased in the early 20th Century,) Lyons was SUPPOSED to be the main municipality and center of commerce between Dubuque to the north and Davenport to the south. See, Buell picked out the area because the river was at its narrowest point in that area. “The Narrows,” they used to call it. Before the first railroad bridge was built, ferries were used to transport people and merchandise back and forth between Lyons and Fulton, Illinois. Clinton was considered a suburb to the more successful Lyons until the decision to put the Chicago and Northwestern railroad bridge SOUTH of Lyons.
Lyons, where my ancestors settled on their arrival from Germany in 1880, was absorbed by its parasitic offspring in 1895.
The first public school in Clinton was conducted in a log house near the W.J. Young upper mill. It was erected in the winter of 1855-56 and Isaac Baldwin was its first teacher. St. Irenaeus School was opened in 1852. I went to Kindergarten through 5th grade at St. Irenaeus School. I went to Baldwin Elementary for sixth grade. Both buildings have since been torn down.
Between the 1850s and 1900, the cities of Lyons and Clinton quickly became centers of the lumber industry and were regarded as the “Lumber Capital of the World.” Huge log rafts were floated down the river from Wisconsin and Minnesota, cut into lumber at Clinton, then shipped to the growing communities via the river and the railroads. Companies owned by the W.J. Young, Chancy Lamb, George M. and Charles F. Curtis ( Curtis Bros. & Co ), David Joyce, Silas W. Gardiner and Friedrich Weyerhäuser families soon became among the largest in the nation. In the 1880s and 1890s Clinton boasted 13 resident millionaires, more millionaires per capita than any other town or city in the nation.
At its height, the 1970 census, Clinton was home to nearly 35,000 people. That was the year my father uprooted our family and we moved to a small town in North Dakota so my dad could get a better job as head mechanic at a new power plant there.
I’m sure it’s a coincidence that the population has dwindled ever since.
Clinton, Iowa. Good old “Stinktown, USA.” I have this “love/hate” thing for the place. I moved back there briefly after my first hitch in the Navy and worked at radio station KROS. Then in the early 90s, I was back — first as a reporter/columnist at the Clinton Herald, then as morning show host at KLNT, which used to be KCLN and became KCLN again when the FM station switched from KCLN to KZEG, and now it exists as a satellite, rebroadcasting automated music from a station in Muscatine. KROS remains, locally-operated as ever.
Never have I seen a small city that at once vehemently rejected and warmly accepted social change. In the late 90s Clinton was the largest city in Iowa WITHOUT a basic building code. But we were the first city of any size in the state to have a black mayor without having a black majority. Clintonians are suspicious of government in general, but they constantly re-elect their councilpersons and tend to vote Democratic.
And now, they are the home of FFC. Flav’s Fried Chicken. Opening smack dab right next door to a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint.
Flav says he doesn’t sweat the Colonel .
And now, to throw a little love to my old hometown newspaper, my old workplace where I worked for nearly nine months for $6.75 an hour as city hall reporter and printed a weekly humor column, here’s a link to their lavish, loving, floor-stompingly optimistic coverage of this moment in Clintonian history.
Somewhere in Lumber Baron heaven (or hell, wherever Lumber Barons go…) W.J. Young, Chancy Lamb, the Curtis Brothers and David Joyce are shaking their ghostly heads in wonder. Lillian Russell, no doubt, seeks a couch upon which to faint and Felix Adler chases his little painted pig around and around the celestial Big Top, oblivious to it all.