Clinton, Iowa – Sawmill Museum

136 Highway

On the way home there was an adorable family taking a leisurely stroll down Highway 136.  A little chat and they decided it was better to head back to the neighboring farm.

Hello and welcome to the blog today.  Over the weekend I took an overnight trip to Clinton, Iowa.  The original plan was to go fishing up north but we had a change of weather and Decorah got a blizzard.  Just days ago it was in the mid 70s! I decided to keep to east central Iowa and miss all the snow and cold near the Minnesota border.  Instead the plans were changed to visit an old lumber town.

Clinton, Iowa is located along the Mississippi River in extreme eastern Iowa.  In the 1800s, Clinton processed so much lumber it was known as the “lumber capital” of the United States.  Large rafts of logs floated down the mighty river.  The city once had 20 bustling saw mills and, in one year, produced enough wood to build 25,000 homes.  Much of it went to places like Chicago and Kansas City, exiting via Clinton’s robust train system.

A small but fascinating museum is dedicated to the history of this area and how the lumber industry contributed to the community.


The Sawmill Museum

The Sawmill Museum turned out to be a gem.  For just $4 admission, there was lots to see and do… even listen to the departed tell their tales!


These likenesses of four famous lumber barons, Earnest Struve, Chancy Lamb, David Joyce and William Young (in that order, left to right), not only are life-like but they moved – eyes, mouths, heads, tilting, etc. as they bantered and bickered, reminiscing about the 1800s and the lumber business.  How life-like were they?  Check out the picture below.


The likeness of David Joyce as he “spoke” to us. The animation was amazing!

There were a number of fascinating exhibits and pieces of vintage equipment.  The treadmill below turned a bandsaw.  A dog, goat, or sheep usually powered such a machine.  I guess they didn’t have P.E.T.A. back then.



A treadmill powered bandsaw.

Another item of interest to me was the saw room.  There was a old engine powered saw.  The room was full of equipment that still functions.


At the peak of the lumber industry, Clinton was a wealthy town.  In fact, there were more millionaires here per capita than in any place in the United States.  Not everyone shared in the wealth.  Workman were paid a “modest” wage and many of them lived in cramped bunkhouses.

Back then modern restoration practices did not exist and the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin were rapidly depleted… until the lumber industry itself started to decline.  By the early 1900s, sawmills were closing.  The last remaining Clinton sawmill closed around the mid 1970s.

There was much to see and learn at the museum.  I liked the exhibits of various pieces of equipment (saws, planers, jointers, lathes, drill presses etc.) describing the use of each.  There were four small structures illustrating tiny dwellings used by the lumberman, the foreman, etc.  People of all ages would find the museum fun and educational.


This beautiful bird might be in the “plover” family and nicknamed “kill-deer” because of its call.

After the museum I headed south a bit and stayed at Rock Creek Park in the neighboring town of Camanche.  This large campground is located along a slough – backwaters of the Mississippi.  That is where I photographed the beautiful little plover bird (I think that is what it is…)

2_Table and meal

The camping dinner was simple – soup, pretzel bread, and fruit salad.  The soup was hearty – a mixture of ground beef, hashbrowns, onion, garlic, chicken broth, cheese, and a little half-and-half.  With abundant sunshine, I’d let it simmer all day in the crockpot using the solar panel and battery bank.  There’s nothing like a hot bowl of soup on a cold night.


Rock Creek Campground area

Sunday morning I headed back after a peaceful night’s sleep.  Unfortunately, the weather had turned cold again.  A week ago the temperature was in the 70s.  Last night it was in the teens with high winds.  But I didn’t mind.  There were no bugs and no neighbors…. a perfect time to relax.

That’s all for now.  It’s a waiting game for the weather to warm up.  In a little over a month, trout stocking will start up again.  I’m definitely looking forward!  Jennifer will get plenty of chances to enjoy some travel.

Thanks for stopping by.  Happy and safe travels always!

Brad and Jennifer
Jones County, Iowa

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

4 Responses to Clinton, Iowa – Sawmill Museum

  1. Jo says:

    I love reading about your adventures. And as always your meals. Yes soup on a cold day or night is always so good. Even the pretzel bread looks so good. I haven’t seen any of it around here.

    BTW I sweat that goat was sticking his tongue at you lol

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thanks Jo! I think you’re right. That goat WAS sticking his tongue out at me. That’s okay – I just wanted him to get off the road. I did not publish any details but I had a problem with the van. Being tired, I wasn’t paying attention and missed the gravel… and backed down into the mud next to the water… I had to have the van towed out for $80. It’s funny how not every detail makes the cute. 🙂 🙂

  2. my_vantasy says:

    What a cute museum. Your drop down table turned out great–dinner looks great, too! Our weather was equally wacky that week in Ohio. Sunny and 76 degrees Friday, thunderstorms Friday night, and then snow flurries on Saturday. Such is the Midwest I guess…

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi. Thanks for the comment! The weather has been pretty quirky. They are predicting 68 on Monday… a day off from work. It’s been a month since I’ve fished so it’s time to hit the streams… till the next cold weather hits.