The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 20, 2012

Sawmill Museum’s new exhibits take visitors back in time

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — The rough-and-tumble life of a lumberjack in the early 1900s doesn’t resemble the modern amenity-filled lives people currently lead.

Through a series of new exhibits at the Sawmill Museum, children and adults alike can drift back in history to experience what it was like for the people who once made Clinton the lumber capital of the world.

The new exhibits, which were made possible by a grant from the Clinton County Development Association, opened Friday.

According to the museum’s executive director, Kelly Halbert, the new exhibits are about understanding the lives of those involved in the lumber industry as well as the evolution of the industry itself.

“I tend to think ‘OK, you’ve got a board,’ but where did that come from?’” Halbert said. “Each one of their lives was just so interesting and different.”

Through the lumber camp exhibit, children can have a hands-on experience of what it was like to live as a lumberjack.

They can explore the foreman’s house and wanigan (supply store), stable, blacksmith’s shop, mess hall and kitchen and living quarters. In each child-size structure special detail was paid to convey a true sense of camp.

Besides the small buildings, the exhibit features trees and a swing set for children to climb through and on. It also contains a plethora of animal puppets.

Murals completing the camp scene were painted on all walls surrounding the camp by Ashford students Skylar Davis and Sarah Bauer and Unity Christian art teacher Laura Readdy.  

In front of the wall showing a lush forest that was cut to stumps are stumps constructed for children to climb on.

The Sawmill Museum’s educational director Brenda Linville, who envisioned the camp, handcrafted all of the trees and stumps.    

“It started out as a sketch and just grew into this lumber camp,” Linville said.

Linville said the camp, which took more than two months to complete, will help children grasp the way people involved in the lumber industry lived more than merely telling them about it would.

“If they can do it, they can understand it better,” she said.

While the children are experiencing the life of a lumberjack, adults can be swept away by the history and evolution of the lumber industry at one of the museums other new exhibits.

The museum was able to secure the postcard exhibit from the LeClaire House in Davenport. Eighteen panels display reproductions of black and white as well as color postcards depicting river towns like Clinton and Fulton.  

Next to the postcard exhibit is one on lumberjacks, sawyers and rafters, who were critical to the industry.

“They were the key men in making the lumber industry in Clinton work,” Halbert said.

Another exhibit features equipment that was used from the early 1900s through present time, creating a story of the industrial revolution.  

“When you go back to the basics of woodworking, the addition of power changed everything,” Halbert said.

Halbert is also working on an exhibit that will show the lives of the lumber barons themselves and how different they were from the lives of their workers.

“We’re going to compare their lifestyles with those of the mill workers, realizing also that they started in the same position,” Halbert said.

Finally, the museum will display different machinery that was used in the area for the lumber industry.  

Halbert said the mill is currently not working, but she hopes to have it running again within the next two weeks.

The Sawmill Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday.  

Admission for children from ages 3 to 10 is $3, adults will pay $4. 

The museum is also offering a new deal for $50 that will allow families access for one year as well as 10 percent off items in the gift shop.