THE HERALD'S OPINION: Club organizers keep local history in the headlines

When the calendar flips over into 2020, Clinton will reach the 165th anniversary of its first platting. But the city originally known as New York actually was born about 1834, its name changed to Clinton after it was purchased in 1838 by Capt. C.G. Pearce of Cincinnati, Col. Beal Randall of Baltimore and a Col. Jennings, according to Clinton Herald history columns written by the late Everett Streit, the Herald's former long-time editor.

At that time, Lyons, which was established in 1835 by Elijah Buell, a former New Yorker who had worked as a riverboat pilot and was seeking government land to set up a homestead along the Mississippi River, sat to the north of Clinton.

To the south were Ringwood and Chancy. Located between what is today the areas of Eighth and 13th avenues north and south of 15th Avenue South and west to 14th Street, respectively, those two communities ultimately would become part of Clinton – Ringwood in 1873 and Chancy in 1892.

Lyons would follow as well. While it operated as its own independent city for decades, voters at a special election on April 20, 1895 approved merging Lyons into Clinton.

Throughout the 1800s, the entire area was well known as a location where the river, rail and roads met at the banks of the Mississippi River, forming what was known as the Gateway to the West. In the century to follow, it continued to build as the result of the success of the early lumber barons and their mills. Many factories sprung up along the river; neighborhoods in which generations of families inhabited flourished.

Sharing the stories about that history and the people who have lived here has been the mission of the Clinton History Club, which now is on the verge of celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Begun by Clinton residents John Rowland and Gregg Obren, the club got its start last September as a place where residents could meet once a month, talk about a particular piece of Clinton history and even have a time of show and tell in which those attending are encouraged to bring in items related to the planned discussion.

Rowland and Obren are well-suited to lead this group. As members of the Clinton Herald Advisory Board, both of them have a keen knowledge of this community. Rowland has a love of the railroad, and as a former Clinton city councilman, has an internal historical knowledge about the city he served. Obren, now retired, was the longtime director of the Clinton Parks and Recreation Department and has been involved in many organizations along the way.

Bring up anything about Clinton's past and the conversation becomes as animated as a swiftly played pinball machine – the ball being the topic at hand as it bounces back and forth between Rowland, Obren and anyone involved in the conversation.

As in the start of any such group, organizers often wonder how much interest there will be. In the case of the history club, the answer has been "a lot."

With sessions that have featured topics such as the former Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Depot located on South Third Street, a tour of the Joyce Chapel at Oakland Cemetery and a presentation from the Clinton LumberKings baseball club, those attending have learned about buildings, organizations and points of interest that have played a major role in the Gateway area.

The group has traveled to the Lyons Fire Station, took a road trip to the Camanche Historical Museum and visited the senior apartments at Clinton's former Washington Middle School, where members were excited to walk down the hallways where either they or their children attended school.

By June, the group was seeing record attendance, partnering with the Clinton Municipal Transit Administration to provide a three-hour bus tour through Camanche and the downtown Clinton area. More than 125 signed up for the tour in less than 48 hours.

One year in, they are extending an invitation for even more people to become involved in the group, which they describe as a destination place for visitors and tourists, underpinned by a desire to keep sharing this community's stories with the world.

We want to thank Rowland and Obren for the work they are putting into the group. They don't just set up a few chairs and wait for people to show up. They line up speakers, decide how those attending are going to get to destinations that are offsite and lead discussions. They are open to learning all they can and educating the community about its history.

It's important work.

We thank them for their dedication.

For more information about the Clinton History Club or to schedule a presentation, contact Gregg Obren at Gobren74@live.com or (563) 503-8345. Contact John Rowland at jrow242@gmail.com or (563) 593-1101. The public and new members are always welcome to attend meetings.