By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald
---- — Clinton in 1900 was a typical river town, seven miles long and seven blocks wide.
The Jan. 6, 1908 Clinton Herald was replete with the Stanford White murder by Harry Thaw — the rich jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, the girl on the “Red Velvet Swing.” The front page had many stories of grave-robbers, gruesome accidents, murders, plagues, storms, robberies, and hydrophobia…in which 35 dogs had to be put down because they were “mad” with rabies.
The papers were filled with cures for diseases such as catarrh, tuberculosis, small pox, affinity, and rheumatism; vaccinations and antibiotics were not yet prevalent. Just one marriage in five ended in divorce, and shoppers at Kamp’s Grocers could get old chickens for 10 cents a pound or spring chickens for 12 cents. Top beef was 6 cents per pound, and people made a dollar a day.
The YMCA had a pool and a gym, and basketball was just taking off. Clinton Country Club was contemplating a new golf course, thanks to lawn mowers now able to cut a lot of grass. The game swept the country at that time. Upwardly-mobile men took up the sport first, but everyone soon joined the fun. Originally, there was just a field west of Franklin School; later, it was moved and became Kiwanis Golf Course on North 13th Street. The CCC moved to Harrison Drive in 1920, near the factory of O.D. Collis, an avid golfer.
City pioneer Reuben Ball died on Jan. 6, 1908. After being born in Kaskaskia, Ill. (in November of 1827), moving to Lyons (in 1850), and marrying Polly (in 1853). He built their home on Second Street in 1860 and, after his death, it passed to his wife, then to Barber/Banker “Pickles” Dreesen, and then to Richard Pollard (Camelot Restaurant).
As we know, Clinton’s first stage of growth was from 1855 until the turn of the century. The community grew rapidly to 20,000-plus and, as people moved up the economic ladder, they desired finer homes. The “courts” were probably the first new addition to Clinton, in about 1910.
Other homes were filling in between Bluff Boulevard and South Fifth Street, which had been the “end of town” for a time. I have a photograph, taken from the Bluff…looking back toward town, which shows housing stopped at Fifth Street and a new addition on the Hill — where St. Mary’s Church was built in 1888. All of the south-end dwellers who worked for the railroad and sawmills were able to live in this area and still walk to work.
After WWII, another building boom began, and the Harrison Drive area became the “new” section of town. As Clinton grew to its maximum size (around 1970), the Galbraith Acres area filled with new homes. Until that time, everyone mostly lived together, rich and poor. In recent years, enclaves have sprung up in places like Brandenburg Estates, Stockwell Lane, Cragmoor and even in Fulton, Ill.
Old newspapers like the Jan. 6, 1908 Herald, are fun to read. One sees names which still exist in Clinton and businesses that have come and gone. Drs. Hainline, Furstenburg, and Port were well known medical men. As mentioned in recent news, Dr. Kershner was one of our first surgeons and bought property out by Memorial Park Cemetery — which just sold for a fortune.
His daughters, Beth Van Allen and Francis Bickelhaupt were, with their husbands, civic leaders.
Stores were famous and fun to visit. Van Allen’s Department Store had those “neat” devices that followed tubes all over the store. You’d pay your bill and — swoosh, it would take your payment to the office and change would return in just moments.
We had five department stores. Reid & Conger was a good one, along with Towle & Spreter, and they were all on the same corner of Fifth Avenue South and Second Street. Martin Morris and Thompson’s were two more. Shopping was an all-day affair. The dime stores were great, too.
People often sat in their cars on Fifth Avenue on Monday nights, just to watch the shoppers. We’ll spend more time on this when Clayton “Cookie” Cook relates his youth about Allen’s Tea Room in the next article.
Also downtown were the Revere and Marcucci’s — and the moving pictures which had just started to appear in early 1900. At the New Family Theater on Second Street, across from City Hall and Boegel’s, one could see a “flick” for 10 cents.
St. Mary’s opened a grade school on Fifth Street, grades first through eighth; and Lillian Russell was coming home to do a musical and would ride around Clinton’s new streets on her bicycle. Armstrong Co. sold chick incubators (everyone could raise chickens in their back yard.) I can recall two or three such enterprises on most blocks. Foy Chicken, in Lyons, was then a big operation.
R.H. Beil was the town’s best photographer, and he advertised in each edition of the newspaper. His studio is still on Second Street, and his predecessors’ ads can be seen on the wall of that building and on the Kline’s Building down the block (Cope and Fein). Over on Third Street, near the Lamb Block, were the Knights of Pythians’ Clubrooms. They had weekly events that were covered in the Herald.
The Grammar School had a mid-year eighth grade graduation of 26 students, where Superintendent O.P. Bostwick handed out diplomas to a class that included future dentist Clifford Grant (State University of Iowa, 1916) and other familiar names. Cliff practiced dentistry in Clinton from 1916 until the 1960s.
Teddy Roosevelt was the President in 1908. In Clinton, automobiles were a “hot” item; Peerless, Buick, and Cadillac were all good names to buy. Electric equipment was on sale at Robb Construction Co. at 213 S. Second St., and you might want to purchase a new electric washer/wringer combination.
My mother and others occasionally ran their arm through the wringer — ouch. You could use an electric hot plate or an electric flat-iron, and other products would soon follow.
All and all, these were exciting and newly “modern” times with a lot going on and many new products to try.
Most of us would’ve liked living then, even if we couldn’t have a cell phone or an i-Pad.
Next article: Downtown Clinton with Clayton “Cookie” Cook
Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on Fridays.
Sources Archives of the Clinton Herald, Jon Burrgraaf