Recently, a guest placed a pin in the state of Mississippi on visitor’s map. The museum now has an official record of a guest from all 50 states.

I try to have a story connecting Clinton with every state or region. Even better though is when a guest provides encouragement to pursue a new or old connection with more vigor and force.

A few weeks ago, the descendants of George W. Stumbaugh visited the museum. A correspondence has developed which has proved fruitful as Clinton’s frontier sawmill story is quite the confusing tale. So many attempts at operating a mill popped up. The 1850s papers are full of names that got lost in the grand bustle of time. The question at hand is how long did Stumbaugh operate Lyons’ first steam sawmill. Many local histories state that David Joyce came to Lyons in 1861 and rented the Stumbaugh mill. The best source on the Joyce family history has a different take.

From Timber Connections, David Joyce came to Iowa in 1855. While Joyce’s biography doesn’t make the connection, local sources have Stumbaugh opening Lyons’ first steam sawmill in 1854 or 1855. Joyce gambled that Lyons would thrive and invested $6,000 in Lyons. Most of that $6,000 went to George Stumbaugh and his mill.

This is a crucial part of our area’s history, and really the development of the West. For example, a Baltimore lumber dealer visited in the 1830s and helped pay for the towns of New York and Lyons to be platted. Young only established his mill here because Cincinnati based capital were the actual owners. Then later, the McGraws of Ithaca, New York, were his main investor.

Like most Eastern investors, David went back home to attend his business, in this case Connecticut. The success of 1856 seemed to make his investment a wise choice. Stumbaugh in winter of 1856 placed a down payment on a large raft of logs for a “record’ 1857 year. However, in 1857, an economic depression robbed farmers of a market for their products. Now farmers couldn’t buy lumber. Stumbaugh lost his down payment, and it never got better.

In 1860, Joyce came to Lyons to “divest himself of his holdings but found he couldn’t do so without losing money.” Joyce instead decided to stay. He opened a retail lumber shop, accepted barter, and then opened a distillery.

Why? David would trade lumber for grain and cattle and then distill the grain for whiskey. By buying cows, he used the mash to feed his herd. Stumbaugh apparently would bring the whiskey and cattle to Wisconsin when buying logs. What is even left out of the Joyce history is that apparently in 1858, a Henry G. Hill leased Stumbaugh’s mill. Due to many of the Civil War-era papers not being on the library’s digitized database, I have yet to find all the details.

According to Timber Connections, in 1865, David Joyce foreclosed on Stumbaugh’s mill. I have not found this note in local sources yet, but from 1858 on, there is no mention of Stumbaugh and a sawmill. When David foreclosed, he had eyes on building a new mill, and in the meantime, he relied on Wisconsin sawed lumber for his retail yard. In 1869, Joyce partnered with SI Smith from New York to build a $48,000 sawmill. Smith was the mill supervisor, and Joyce was the marketer.

But of the Stumbaugh mill and mill property? In the 1860s, up at 29th Avenue, Ira Stockwell took over the various mills Stumbaugh and the Coxes had started. Sometime in the 1870s, Stockwell became a farmer due to the mills being burned down. Then in 1880, Ira, with other backers, built a new mill at the property and opened the Lyons Lumber Company.

So where did the Stumbaughs go? It seems sometime after the panic of 1857, George W. Stumbaugh lost claim to the mill. In his 1875, obituary it makes mention that Stumbaugh had to sacrifice his homestead to pay his debts. A mysterious 8 years passed when family documents show that George in 1865 bought a store. In 1872, he moved to Princeton. In much confusion, the Patrick Wolfe County book says Stumbaugh ran the mill alone until his death. Wolfe then says in 1867, it was dismantled. Of course, George lived until 1875. Searching the Clinton paper database, no mention of Stumbaugh and lumber exists from 1858 onwards. As mentioned, there is reference to someone else leasing the Stumbaugh mill.

But the Stumbaughs didn’t stop working with lumber. Samuel Stumbaugh, G.W.’s son, worked as a lumber dealer in the 1880 census. In September of 1895, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Stumbaugh went to Hazlehurst, Mississippi to make their future home.

They were going south to work in the Eastman-Gardiner mills around Laurel, Mississippi. Gardiner, being Silas Gardiner, owner of a large Lyons operation, Gardiner, Batchhelder, and Wells.

The Gardiners have quite a history in Laurel. In a colorful take from Jonathan Odell, Laurel was on the verge of being an “abandoned shantytown” when “Our Marvelous Yankee” came to the rescue. In the blog’s take, Laurel’s saying was “While other (robber barons) came to rape, pillage, and leave, OUR Yankees raped, pillaged, and stayed.” Joining Silas south was his brother, the Eastmans, and now we know the Stumbaughs. The Gardiners hired local Mississippi laborers, even black workers. The Gardiners pushed the norms of Jim Crow South and labor.

The Gardiners helped fund black schools to a larger degree than normal, and Laurel provided a degree of social services.

It needs to be said that while Laurel was marginally better than the rest of Mississippi in terms of race relations, Laurel was no utopia.

One would be hard pressed to look at a modern Laurel history book and not see Clinton’s philanthropic legacy replicated in Laurel by the Gardiners. For us, the visit by the Stumbaughs also helped establish the legacy of the Stumbaugh lumber history. Just like today, we hear about Riverboat Days, the Peanut, Iten, and the list goes on and on, one wonders if everyone just knew the Lyons Lumber Company as the Stumbaugh mill, even though for decades, the Stumbaughs worked in other interests.

But like so much of Clinton’s lumber legacy, it’s always amazing to see how our lumber families went to places around the country and built a new lumber legacy.

Final note, I’m sure in a few months this story will all change. That’s the real fun of this history. As sources are found, as new understandings are forged, and as more of the public share their knowledge and interpretations, a more accurate and a more exciting narrative emerges.

Matt Parbs is the executive director of Clinton’s Sawmill Museum.

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