CLINTON — Plans to establish an interactive museum/cultural center that will focus on Clinton’s history as a lumber industry giant are moving forward and construction at the building could start within months.

The Clinton Kiwanis Club has been working more than two years on the project. Kiwanis Club and Sawmill Steering Committee member Stephanie Brisch said the Sawmill Heritage Museum will be a dynamic, interactive, real and active experience for visitors. The committee has been working with Cedar Rapids architectural firm Howard R. Green Co. on a concept for the building.

The intention of the Sawmill Steering Committee is to create activities that will engage visitors in a real experience of the lumber mill industry, including a working sawmill. It is hoped museum visitors would be able to observe craftsmen working their trade, log rolling and moving of logs on the water. It would show and tell the story of the lumberjack, the adventures of the river men and the transport of log rafts down the Mississippi River to the Clinton mills — to the loud, smoky and dusty sawmill operations along the city’s riverfront.

The facility could even possibly lead to Clinton becoming a stop on the lumberjack competition circuit. It is believed such a facility would strategically reinforce the travel and tourism industry in Iowa.

The project has received support in a variety of areas including a grant from the Great Places initiative in the amount of $489,000. Last summer, John McEleney donated property at 27 23rd Ave. North, the site of the former McEleney Auto Center body shop, to the Clinton Kiwanis Club Foundation. The committee just learned of the award of a grant from the Clinton County Community Development Association in the amount of $100,000.

“Receiving this grant helps put us in a really good position,” said Brisch. “We’re very thankful for them and their past support and this grant they have awarded us.”

Eric Johnson, a member of the Sawmill Heritage Committee, said construction of the $750,000 project is anticipated to begin in August and the project is expected to be complete next summer.

Though the Kiwanis Club has been instrumental in initiating the concept of a sawmill museum, committee members stress the project is by no means exclusive to Kiwanis members — the Sawmill Steering Committee is a group comprised of many individuals with a strong interest in the museum, including members of the Clinton County Historical Society, who have worked to provide valuable historical background on the local mills and other businesses with close ties to the mills at the time. Members of the Sawmill Heritage Museum Steering Committee include Brisch, Johnson, Ward 2 Councilman Mike Kearney, Ward 4 Councilman Rodger Holm, Clinton Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Julie Allesee, Dr. Bill Killean, Phil Hoffman, Dee Ketelsen, Don and Kevin Ketelsen, Louise Laurent, Don Overland, Bob Seger, Clinton City Attorney Matt Brisch, Great Places Initiative representative Liz Allen, Jim Holstein, City Engineer Steve Honse, Ron Kircher, Bill Rathje and Jan Hansen of the Historical Society.

In an effort to develop a working museum with historical accuracy, committee members have met with a descendent of W.J. Young, the owner of the largest sawmill in Clinton. They were able to gain further perspective from a tour of the Struve/Cotton Sawmill in Elk River, with Helen Cotton, the descendent of yet another Midwestern family steeped in the tradition of the lumbering industry.

The Clinton Iowa Great Places project also has supported the museum. The committee for the Clinton project has designated a sizable portion of its allocation to support the development of the museum. The funds will be used as seed and match so that the money is allowed to grow and add to the completion of the project.

The Sawmill Steering Committee wishes to thank many groups and individuals for their contributions to the project, including the McEleney family, the Iowa Great Places Committee and Program, the CCCDA, Howes and Jefferies, Jim Durgin and Helen Cotton.

Although the committee currently is not actively fundraising for the project, donations are welcome in the form of money or in-kind donations. Anyone interested in learning more or becoming involved in the sawmill museum project can contact Brisch at Clifton Gunderson, at 242-3440, or Johnson at J.T. Cullen at (815) 589-2412 ext. 307.