CLINTON — History aficionados from around the region are invited to a unique expo Saturday as the Clinton Public Library, Sawmill Museum and other organizations host the first Gateway History conference.

The all-ages event will center around the rich history of the area, highlighting aspects of industry, religion, culture and commerce from the region's first settlers to present-day life in the Gateway area. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Sawmill Museum, the event will kick off with a keynote address from Clark Kidder, author of "Emily’s Story: The Brave Journey of an Orphan Train Rider."

Clinton Public Library Director Brad Wiles believes each aspect of the day's activities, including the introductory speech, will offer a new perspective to area residents and history enthusiasts that hasn't been offered in a collective program before, which is exactly why the organizations began planning the event.

"There is a great, rich history in this area, and really we wanted to get as many people involved as possible," Wiles said. "It's advantageous for all of the groups to work together, it makes it a much richer discussion. Any chance there is a showcase that we should."

Since Wiles began his position with the library, first as the root cellar archivist then as director, he and Sawmill Museum Director Matt Parbs have established an extensive working relationship based on their shared passion for local history.

That collective effort eventually led to the organization of the Gateway History conference, but it called for more man-power than just the two organizations.

Once the initial concept was laid, Wiles said it didn't take much to get other historical organizations involved.

"We had talked about different ways that we could partner up on different projects; different things we could do to drum up history," Wiles said. "Everybody here in the area, the different organizations, sort of have their own scope of what they do. Any time they have an opportunity to go out there, talk about and promote it, they do."

With four sessions spread throughout a nearly 10-hour day, Saturday's history conference has aspects that any history buff would be drawn to, and by offering the individual sessions, Wiles said guests can visit all or simply some of them.

From 9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. the first session will focus on the early history of the region and will feature presentations from the State Historical Society, Clinton County Historical Society and the Des Moines Historical Society. The second session will begin at 11:15 a.m. and will highlight immigration and emigration of the region. Session three is designed to recognize the implementation of religion and beliefs that came into the area and the final session will conclude with the commerce and industry that shaped the Gateway area.

The entire event is free and open to any person interested in learning the history of the area. Wiles is hopeful the conference will generate support from the community and others who travel to visit, but he believes with or without a large turnout it will still be a success.

"I think any time you do something that hasn't been done before, or hasn't been done for a long time, that to me is successful," Wiles said. "Of course I hope that we have a good turnout that would just show that these types of programs are in demand, and I think it would spark interest in doing more. It's an exploratory kind of thing, and regardless of turnout, I think it will be a great day."

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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