By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald
---- — To this day, thousands of Clintonians say, “I was born and raised in Lyons.”
Founder Elijah Buell first set foot on the banks of what would become Lyons, Iowa in 1835. He built a cabin, laid out a town, platted the community, raised a family, sold land, gave away land and had to go to Dubuque to permanently claim it.
One hundred years later, Lyons would have perhaps its biggest Centennial Celebration ever… on September 19, 20 and 21, 1935. According to “Muffy” Zastrow, 95, there were other celebrations in the summers before this monumental one and also every year thereafter, up through the 1950s. I, personally, recall a giant Ferris wheel on Main near Second Street in 1956, and six blocks of activities!
The Lyons Shopping Center had contiguous buildings from McEleney’s, then by the bridge at the river, out to the Lyons Lumber Co. run by the Borbecks on Third Street. The Struve Mill and Reimers Grocery Store on the south side were beyond it, and it wasn’t far to the one-mile house. Just short of that, on the north side of Main, was Whiskey Hollow, Tritschler Brewery on the hill, and Waldorf Service (which is now a house) at the corner of Main Avenue and 10th Street.
Commerce was then thriving. Muffy recalls hundreds of small businesses, and each supported a family. Darlene’s Dress Shop was west of Muffy’s Men’s Shop. Across the street was the bank that became the Masonic Temple. Muffy went to high school on the park, where he also played basketball and was drum major of the band — one of four that marched up Main Avenue in 1935. He recalls a stage was constructed in front of Paaske’s where various acts entertained crowds. The steamboat “LeClaire” was moored on the river and was the site for formal speeches.
There were restaurants everywhere. Mabel Dempsey ran one and really knew some “blue” language, too. Dick Scanlan ran Wardrobe Cleaners, which was also called Lyons Deluxe Cleaners. Muffy knew all of them. They were a close-knit group who loved each other and were customers in each other’s businesses.
Muffy worked on Main from right after WW II until he retired in 1983. One centennial event he remembers, specifically, was the release of balloons back behind the high school. In 1935, Otto Rockrohr was in charge of that.
The executive committee that year was made up of Wayne Shadduck, assisted by Chuck Holm and Earl Mayer. There were 14 committees planning the Lyons Centennial Celebration: Ralph Baker, Frank Borbeck, and Alfred Mommsen ran the Farm Parade; R.L. Rickoff and Byron Phinney were in charge of the Popularity Contest. Others were involved with Dances, Concessions, Publicity, and Donations. Harry Kamer ran the football committee with Paul Sharar. Lyons High School played the Davenport “B” team at Root Park’s new stadium on Thursday, the 19th. Working tirelessly for the 1935 celebration, too, were Walter Stuedemann, Alfred Reimer, A.F. Bender, Charles M. Pelton, A. M. Potts, and Dr. W.L. Scott.
The fun and games, mainly, centered on dances and free vaudeville acts. A trapeze expert performed to a wild crowd of 1,500. Some old contests provided laughs as contestants tried to catch a “greased pig” following a “tug of war” and a chicken chase. The first historical pageant at Root Park got rained out early and was followed by a dance at the Odeon Club; music was by Ray McCune’s orchestra. Later, the pageant was repeated, complete with Father Marquette coming down the Mississippi River and prairie schooners arriving at the “choice” crossing here in Lyons, Iowa.
Root Park was in use only a few years, because it was donated to the federal government for Schick Hospital. Houses were suddenly moved in 1941, as the Lundquist addition sprang up to the west. All this lay ahead for Lyons when the Centennial took place, for we were at peace in 1935.
At 2 o’clock on Saturday, September 21, 1935, the final day of the three-day celebration began with free acts at 10:30 a.m., and at 2 o’clock the formal program commenced. Master of ceremonies, E. F. Meyer introduced the speakers, W.C. Eastland (Editor of the Clinton Herald) and Jim Poole, a regional livestock expert.
At the stadium dedication, Peter Matzen spoke of local progress, even “under the present economic upheaval” (referring to the Great Depression). He spoke of the programs that helped build the stadium (the W.P.A.) and the use of concrete and electricity, which our pioneers never imagined. Col. Wheeler was a speaker because he was instrumental in having Lock and Dam 13 built here, and was introduced by Halleck Seaman, who led the fight for it. These speakers were followed by the Queen’s crowning by the mayor of Clinton, W.L. Greene. The finalists were Jeanette Lueders (who won), and Berdella Vincent, Henrietta Hinrichsen, and Ann Holdgrafer. Several others received votes ranging from 2,400 to 21,800 in a very strong competition among 10 contestants. Iowa State Bank won the float contest and Becker Seed was a contender in several areas.
The main industries in Lyons were The Wire Cloth Factory, run by Seaman; The Lock Shop, and Lubbers and Bell. There were other factories also, like Disbrow’s Woodworking and Anderson-Winter Furniture Manufacturing.
Lyons had been an independent town from 1835 until it was annexed to Clinton in 1895. It had 24 mayors prior to annexation. A. R. Cotton was first and D. Whitney was the last. In between, C.L. Root, C.M Baldwin, David Joyce, C. Moeszinger, Ira Stockwell and a few others served.
Lyons, Iowa was a proud pioneer community which really started regional settlement in an important part of northeastern Iowa — on the Mississippi — and ushered in a time of fantastic growth and economic prosperity. The original citizens of Lyons taught its new neighbor of Clinton to prosper in an organized and law-abiding manner, which did us all proud.
Sources: Marvin “Muffy” Zastrow; Clinton Herald archives from September 19-21,1935; Clinton Co. Historical Museum; and ‘Rose’ from The Unicorn…… which BTW, has delicious breakfasts now!
Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A on Fridays.