Diary from Clinton's Early Days - 1855 

From: The Clinton Daily Herald; July 30, 1902
Transcribed by a Clinton County IaGenWeb volunteer.


Joseph Nimmo, the Statistician, Writes The Herald an Interesting Letter Regarding the Inauguration of the City – August 1, 1855 the Birthday of the Town.

Joseph Nimmo, Jr., the statistician and economist of Washington, D. C., sends The Herald the following communication which will be read with deep interest by the people of the city:

The Natal Day of Clinton.

Referring to my diary for the year 1855, I find that August 1st of that year may be regarded as the natal day of the city of Clinton, as on that day the town was formally inaugurated. I was then employed as a civil engineer by the Mississippi & Iowa Central Railroad company. Our company being unable to procure sufficient land for depot purposes at Lyons, about July 15th some of our principal officers, as a land company, purchases of two brothers by the name of Pierce the land on which the city of Clinton is located. On Monday, July 23rd, 1855, I took my engineering party down from Lyons to the then unnamed town and at about 9 o’clock that morning the first stake for the survey of the city was driven under my direction by General William C. Brown, of Syracuse, N. Y., secretary of our railroad company and then major general of the western division of the troops of the state of New York.

During the week that intervened before the grand celebration of August 1st a shanty nearly 100 feet long was hastily erected, a steamboat, “The Audubon,” was chartered to bring visitors up the river. White’s Band of Davenport was hired, and invitations were sent out 80 miles north, south and west, even to points beyond the “Wapsie.” The day dawned with a heavy downpour of rain, which continued during the morning, but just before noon the clouds broke and the sun shone out from a clear sky. The American flag, and a great streamer with the name “Clinton” were hauled up on our flagstaff, which had been planted near the river front. The town then consisted of two small frame buildings, a log house, the newly erected shanty, and the 20 foot square tent of the engineer corps. At about 3 p. m. the “Audubon” hove in sight with its load of visitors from Burlington, Muscatine and Davenport. Our entire company was at the river bank. We received them with cheers, answered back by the people on the boat, the band playing lively airs. Judge Williams, attorney for our railroad company, then announced that the company on the boat would please remain on board and that as many of our people who desired would come aboard, and that the boat would proceed to Fulton and Lyons in order to bring down visitors to the celebration. That was done. As we drew out from Lyons the company of board gave three rousing cheers for Clinton and the band struck up the tune “Jordan’s a Hard Road to Travel,” which latter had a satirical significance the meaning of which it is unnecessary to explain to you. On returning to Clinton at about 4 p. m., all assembled in a grove in front of the town, where speeches were made by Judge Williams of Muscatine, General Charles B. Stewart, consulting engineer of our company, who laid out the town of Clinton, and other distinguished men, but I failed to mention their names in my diary, being more interested in noting the young ladies who were present, my impressions of their appearance and the pleasure I had in their company.

At the same time the cornerstone of a Presbyterian church was laid. As soon as the speaking was ended all adjourned to the great shanty where an abundant feast had been prepared for the entire company. The engineer corps and all the other available young men served as waiters and enjoyed the service. Then the tables were hastily cleared away and dancing began. At twelve o’clock it was announced that the boat would leave with the visitors from Lyons and Fulton. We young men accompanied our lady friends to those points. It was a beautiful moonlit night, and all went merry with as them. On returning to Clinton at about 1 a. m., we went ashore our friends from below went aboard, and with band playing, whistle blowing and hearty cheers from boat and shore we ended the festivities, which marked the formal inauguration of the city of Clinton.

Col. Milo SmithThe Mississippi & Iowa Central railroad was reorganized as the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska railroad in January, 1856, and Col. Milo Smith of Clinton became our chief engineer.

What changes, what progress has marked the years which have succeeded that memorable August 1, 1855. It has been the most eventful period of the world’s history. When I landed at Lyons on April 28th, 1855, there was not a bar of railroad track laid in the state of Iowa. Now you have about 9,500 miles of railroad in your state. At that time the best informed railroad builders of this country declared that a railroad across the continent was utterly impracticable, but today the American continent presents no barrier to the flow of commerce. Each one of the six trans-continental railroads, as well as all the other great trunk lines of the country are for the general purposes of commerce greatly superior even to the ocean, nature’s free highway.

Across the gulf of time which has intervened since 1855, I send a friendly greeting and the story of pleasant memories to the people of the city of Clinton, Iowa.