Marieta's Retirement Ramblings

Root Cellar, Clinton Public Library, Clinton, Iowa


Continuing to find genealogy treasures in Iowa:

Root Cellar
Clinton Public Library, Lyons Branch
105 Main Avenue
Clinton, Iowa 52732


What a name, Root Cellar! When I first heard it, I was intrigued, so we needed to visit eastern Iowa! We visited a year ago, then I broke my arm and never got a blog post written. More recently I picked up some vibes that something had changed with the Root Cellar. I called and talked with a librarian. She filled me in on the scoop and I decided I needed to visit again so I could write about the latest news.

Well, things have definitely changed! Instead of being in the cellar with less than desirable environmental conditions, the new location is light and airy. It seems that a branch library was closed. Then, the Root Cellar was moved to that branch. So, while it is no longer in the cellar, it is still called the Root Cellar.

Last year we met Brad Wiles, the archivist. Now, he is the head librarian for the Clinton Public Library.

I was intrigued last year when Brad told us that in the 1880s and early 1890s Clinton was known as a sawdust town with millionaires. By 1890 Clinton had thirteen millionaires. In fact, the tradition is that Clinton had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation! Trees were cut and logs were brought from Minnesota and Wisconsin down the Mississippi River to Clinton and milled into lumber. By 1870 eleven lumber mills had been built; the area prospered and grew from the lumbering industry. Many mansions were built in town and people enjoyed the “good life.” Then, it all came tumbling down with the panic of 1893!

A unique resource here is the Everett A. Streit “Once Upon a Time” series. This is a compilation of 8 years of newspaper columns written in the 1990s regarding the history of Clinton. This is the first place local people check when wanting to recall a story about the town’s history.

At the time of our visit last year this repository had just received many boxes (100 linear feet) of photographs and negatives from a local commercial photographer, covering 1940s to 2008. While these have not been inventoried yet, they have moved from the cellar storage to the better environmental conditions in the new location.

Last year Brad told us that he was moving forward to digitize as much as possible, including some of the recently acquired photo collection. With his change in responsibilities and the move the library made, I hope those plans continue.

This library has a very strong collection for genealogy and local history researchers: thousands of obituaries, 8 legal file drawers of vertical file information, approx. 84 linear feet in the “Iowa” collection, cemetery books and some funeral home information, nearly 20 linear feet of family histories, dozens of notebooks with newspaper indexes, city directories, school year books, plat maps and lots of microfilm. This genealogy library has DAR and Great Migration books and information for other states.

I found a notebook filled with an admirable project when someone was trying to determine who died at the county home. The binder included a brief history of the county home and a list of 208 deaths, each name confirmed with either a death record or an obituary.

I was impressed when I checked the library’s online card catalog. I didn’t talk with Brad about this, but there appears to be a unified effort on both sides of the Mississippi to have a combined card catalog and genealogy items are included. Type “genealogy” in the “quick library search” box to see what I mean. Therefore, if one library doesn’t a specific book, it is possible it may be at another nearby library. The catalog seems to function like a mini-WorldCat catalog! Nice!

To me, moving the genealogy library to the new location was a good idea, but change can be difficult. I hope people come to see what wonderful resources are available for them as they seek their roots in the Root Cellar!