When Elijah Buell went to the post office in the 1830's, it was a several-day trip along Bluff Road to the Wapsipinicon River to where J.D. Bourne had the only Post Office for miles around. A letter from Utica, N.Y. might have taken many weeks or months to get there. The news would then have been very old. Compare that to today's instantaneous internet! Buell might have had to stay overnight at one of the way-stations on Bluff Road. Two of them still exist, the John New house across from The Sarah Harding Home, and the old limestone home at 8th Avenue So. and Bluff. These structures were built in 1837 and 1838, respectively.
Why was the old Bluff Road the primary artery between Lyons and Camanche from 1835 to 1850? The main transportation route was still the river. Inland travel by road was rare and only followed natural trails such as this highway. It was there for centuries gone by, as the Indians used it. It was hard, having been chiseled out of native limestone by nature. The river was much deeper 50,000 years ago! At one time after the Ice Age, the riverbank was located on the bluff and the road was a natural shelf at its edge. This was a reliable road not subject to problems of rain, mud, and swamps, which were regular difficulties down by the Mississippi in the lowlands.
Soon, a horseback mail route was established to bring letters to the settlers, but the principal receiving spot was the American Fur Trading Company on the Wapsi. Also, at this time, J.M. Bartlett operated a trading post several miles south of Buell's cabin. He called his village New York, but it had no settlers, because most of them chose to go up to Lyons. Eventually, Bartlett sold his interests to Captain C.G. Pearce, Colonel B. Randall, and Colonel Jennings.
Pearce became the sole owner, but did little to develop the area. Then, in 1855, the Iowa Land Company acquired it, because of the news of an advancing railroad. They renamed it "Clinton"... after the famous governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton. Colonel Randall continued to run the small store and sold whiskey, Dr. Sappington's pills, and tobacco. People congregated there and talked politics, and occasionally took part in a free-for-all.
The Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska Railroad Company started to lay track 1856-1857, and indeed finished twenty miles to DeWitt! The first school was taught by Isaac Baldwin in a log house during the winter of 1855-56. Later that same year the first Post Office was built, and Charles Lombard started the first sawmill just north of the trading post, where our tennis courts and pool are currently located. Soon after, the Iowa Central House Hotel was built and advertising commenced in eastern newspapers to draw settlers to the new community. Clinton was every bit a "planned town" with its purpose, the railroad. Within a short time a second economic goal was added, lumber sawmills, and the rest is history.
In 1857, Chancy Lamb built his first sawmill, and the first bank was established by D. W. Dakin, but was sold to W.F. Coan in 1863. The first trains crossed a small bridge to Little Rock Island, where a small settlement was created. Railroad cars were brought across on the ice, or goods were transported via water, until a main railroad bridge could be built in 1865. It was a moment of great joy when the people of Clinton celebrated the end of the Civil War and the fact that they now enjoyed an all-rail communication with the country east of the Mississippi River. In 1909, a new double-track railroad bridge was built, and another railroad bridge is now in the offing in the 21st Century.
It wasn't long until the lumber milled in Clinton was being taken westward by way of the re-named Chicago and North Western, and it became known that "the lumber from Clinton built the West," where there were no forests until you reached the Rockies! In fact, it wasn't until the pine forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota were depleted, in the late 1890's, that Clinton was NOT any longer known as the Lumber Capital of the Mississippi Valley, and perhaps of the whole country! The Lamb and Young mills produced more board feet of lumber than any other spot in the world and, in turn, produced more millionaires than any other place.
It was said by the early settlers that "there wasn't a pauper in the county,” as the materials for building shelter and for putting food on the table were abundant. Nine men out of every ten was a farmer. They depended on what was grown in their fields or gardens, and what they hunted in the woods or caught in the rivers and ponds. Wild berries, plums, crab apples and grapes supplied welcome luxuries until the orchards that they planted reached full maturity. Prairie chickens, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, and deer abounded in the woods and prairies. Times were good and God's bounty plentiful.
The people of the area lived well and transportation was synonymous with communication. The River was there first source of commercial and social interaction and Old Bluff Road was soon another. Pioneers craved that communication and in the Clinton/Lyons area there were many ways to achieve this goal before trolleys, railroads and the automobile quickened the pace.