By Gary Herrity
Special to the Herald
---- — It is said that Camanche was so-named because two Indians were killed nearby, but they were probably of the Sac and Fox tribe who made the great Indian mounds across the river at Albany. At any rate, Camanche was destined for great things … . until the tornado of June 3, 1860.
That storm was one of the most violent ones ever recorded. The Mason’s Charter and Tyler’s Jewel were found way over in Illinois someplace, where a woman was using the jewel as a hat pin, until it was recognized and returned. A lot of the victims were buried together in one plot, surrounded by an iron fence, in Rose Hill Cemetery -- which is one of the oldest maintained cemeteries in Iowa. It was named for the wild roses that bloomed nearby.
Later, Camanche recovered and prospered, but not to the degree it originally sought. Between 1900 and 1940 Camanche reached out to Clinton as its source of shopping and education. One important transportation mode then was the Interurban electric railway system. You can still see the remnants of a trestle just west of the old Central Steel & Tube Company property. It began in at the turn of the century and concluded operation in 1940, when most people had begun using automobiles. It was very economical, but it was closed down nevertheless. It ran from Clinton to Muscatine, and it is said that it could get from downtown Clinton to downtown Davenport in about 75 minutes. Albert and Arnold Wiebers, of Camanche, were conductors on it. The depots were in Clinton’s Jacobsen Building and, later, near Pinney Printing on 5th Avenue So. and behind the Grand Hotel on 6th Avenue So. It used the trolley car tracks in town and its own tracks out in the countryside.
Wallace Lum was once the mayor of Camanche and farmed and ran a well-known lumber company. (It must have seemed suggestive of a stutter … Lum Lumber.) Anyway, he was known for being a trusting soul, who used to tell customers to “go out and pick up what you need and give me a list later.”
Lewis Westgate was a longtime mayor as was, in more recent years, Paul Willis, Jr. And who can forget the affable fire chief Bev Tyler and the Aplins, Glenda and John? Fine people, all.
Another tragedy that everyone probably still mourns is the loss of that great Camanche restaurant, The Steak Inn. It was the best! -- With terrific steaks, and softball-sized ice cream drinks!
Local educators have been really important leaders in the community: Dan Bolte, Gary Cross, Dick Frett, Leigh Goff, Buck Stamp, Barb Parker , A.J. Hlubek, Mary Jane Case, Mary Tyler, Roger Welty, Ron Wehde, Willard and LeeAnn Larson, Harold Rycroft and his wife Sarey, and on and on.
Back in history, Dale Powell mentioned that his grandma, Amanda Purinton, came to this area in 1850 at the age of six in a covered wagon. Times were tough to be sure!
No one should forget how very hard it was to finish high school in the 1920’s and 30’s, as Camanche High School wasn’t completed until 1961! Students who attended Clinton High their junior and senior year had to get there via the expensive Iowa Interurban Railway (fare: ten cents), or they walked!
A few hitched a ride in Dale Powell’s Willy, until it broke down. CHS got out at 3:00 pm, and Clinton Foods at 3:15, so some stalwarts made a mad dash over the hill to Camanche Avenue to catch a ride with any of the men who would wait a bit for the kids. It was a friendlier time, when people generally helped each other out if they could.
Back in 1918, a young Harry McKenrick went to France for World War I, and sent a letter back home on November 24, 1918. He’d had a busy, frightening time for a few weeks. His unit was scheduled to go to the front to replace a unit that had just been totally annihilated, but they were delayed two hours -- just enough time to receive the news that the Armistice had taken place, November 11, 1918!
He escaped death again when he survived the deadly Spanish Flu, a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide! He must have been predestined to live on and produce Sam and his two sisters. Camanche survived, too. Harry and Sam were fine ballplayers, also, which was a wonderful skill fostered in Camanche.
In the early 1840’s, Camanche grew to be over 1200 hundred people, and was larger at one time than Clinton or Lyons! Its population fell to 600, but then came back to over 4000 in the 1970’s.
Some people jokingly say, “all the people of Camanche are related to each other, so be sure never to talk about anyone!” But this idea makes for a fine team of people who are known for sticking together… . in good times and in bad.