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ROAD TRIPPIN' Clinton: Sawmill Museum

Sawmill Museum in Clinton, Iowa. (CBS2/FOX28)

It's actually a great conversation starter for Matt Parbs and he just smiles because he hears the question so often, "Why is there a Sawmill Museum in the middle of the cornfields?"

As the executive director of that museum on the banks of the Mississippi River, Matt says in an agriculture state like Iowa, visitors just don't expect to find a roaring river town that was built by logging. Clinton's rich history tells the tale of rough and tumble lumberjacks and mill workers who made this city famous. From the 1850s to the 1890s they floated millions of logs down the Mississippi to be cut up into lumber in Clinton.

At one time nearly 20 sawmills lined the banks of the river and Matt says if there was a building or house constructed anywhere within about a six hour drive, the wood probably came from here.

"It was a hot commodity, because we cut 195 million board feet at our height, which I think is equivalent of something like 20,000 homes."

Today, kids can play in replicas of an old bunk house or pretend to rustle up some grub in the camp kitchen or stick their smiling faces through the giant cutout at the front of the museum that makes it appear that they're legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Volunteers continue to keep the history alive as they demonstrate the massive saw blades and original equipment used in some of the mills 160 years ago.

Bob Alt says the timber industry sprouted in Clinton and business grew faster than a Wisconsin fir tree.

"There were a lot more millionaires per capita in this city than there were in the rest of the country. During that period of time the sawmills were just a very big part of the industry here."

Some of those lumber barons tell their own tales in a room of animatronic figures that explain how their companies took control of the north woods and turned an idea into a lumber legacy. It's a fascinating story that really comes to life with the hands on learning experiences, tours and knowledgeable staff at the Sawmill Museum.

Come along as Matt Hammill takes you ROAD TRIPPIN' to find the roots of this thriving community in Cinton, Iowa!


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