In 1836, Clinton was platted as a village and christened the governmental seat of what was then called Rives County, which was later re-named Henry County in honor of patriot Patrick Henry. The village was called Clinton after DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York. The village of Clinton took form in 1837 as James M. Goff marked off 64 lots and platted the streets on the areas highest ground, which now surrounds todays downtown square. Once the neighboring forest and brush were cleared, buildings began to sprout. Thomas B. and Benjamin F. Wallace constructed the first building a log storehouse on the square in 1837. The first business on the square a tavern and hotel was opened by John Nave in 1837 and called "Pollards Tavern." As businesses were built, so were homes for those who came to settle in Clinton. In 1839, the courthouse, built from bricks fired from local clay, was completed and court was in session. A few homes had been built, the population had grown to more than 100 citizens, and a schoolteacher opened shop in his home by 1843. Early settlers continued to come to Clinton: Joshua, Jefferson, and Jonathan Sweeney built homes on the eastern outskirts of the village in the 1840s, and in 1852 Judge Dorman built the first two-story home in Clinton. By 1870, Franklin School, the first high school, was built and the railroad had arrived. With the arrival of the railroad, Clinton began to prosper, its population growing to 2,868 by 1880.
The 1880s saw the installation of the first gas street lamps and the first waterworks. The Blair Railroad line connected Clinton to Kansas City, beginning in 1885, with other rail lines arriving soon after. In 1891, the first city hall was built and by 1895, the black population of Clinton was celebrating thirty years of freedom during an Emancipation Celebration.
During the late 1800s and into the 1900s, excursion trains, public buggies, carriages, and trolleys brought large numbers of visitors to Artesian Park to view the Great Artesian White Sulphur Spring Well, which shot a fountain of water nearly 12 feet into the air. The park kept people amused with a boat chute that sent people into the lake below, the White Sulphur Springs Hotel, and horse races.
By 1925, Clinton was known as the Baby Chick Capitol of the World, as Royal Booth established his Central Breeding Farms, equipped with an incubator holding over one million eggs. Other hatcheries followed Booths lead, and by 1936, farmers produced truckloads of eggs and poultry.
At around the same time, Larabee Mills was producing Airy Fairy Flour and Larabees Best flour and claimed to be the largest soft wheat mill in the world. Lawrence Brown established Brown Manufacturing in 1923, and produced toys, games, including what is now known as Chinese Checkers, and even cereal.
During the 1950s through 1970s, as the population continued to increase, Clinton welcomed an industrial park, manufacturers, a hospital and clinic, housing developments, country clubs and golf courses, and shopping centers.
Clintons history and heritage are alive and easily viewed in modern-day Clinton. The Henry County Museum and Cultural Arts Center, at 203 West Franklin in the historic downtown square, provides glimpses of the citys pioneer past. Reconstructed building fronts re-create a turn-of-the-century village, where visitors tour an 1800s drugstore/soda fountain, a doctors office, a barber shop, a school house,a general store, a bank, and a harness shop. The Henry County Historical Society staffs a museum with from-the-past exhibits and oversees tours of an 1856 Dog Trot log house.
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