Sunday, January 31, 2010

I. N. Clark, Mr. Sutton

In downtown Sutton, north of the tracks and on the west side of Saunders Avenue, in the midst of row of red brick buildings sits a single gray, almost white building. High on the face of the building is the inscription “I N CLARK” referring to Isaac Newton Clark.

Few individuals get to face the challenges and opportunities of building a town. A long list of skills, knowledge, experience and talent were needed to develop a new town. Legal expertise was needed to formalize land ownership and to create and organize the town and its government. Brokers were needed to handle property exchanges. Merchants had to build stores, find sources of goods and create a business. Some products had to be manufactured locally. New towns needed all kinds of people. Sutton got I. N. Clark.

Isaac Newton Clark was born near Cleveland, Ohio on June 18, 1836. He left the farm to attend a Teachers’ Institute at Hiram College where he received his certificate from James Garfield, President of the college, and later President of the United States. Clark taught school and farmed in Ohio and Illinois until June, 1861 when he enlisted and was mustered into the Twenty-fifth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Within a few months, an inflammation seriously limited the vision in his left eye and he was honorably discharged.

He returned to Ohio and in September, 1863 married Miss Mary Miner, a twenty-five year old teacher with eleven years experience. The young couple moved to Champaign, Illinois where he farmed and helped form Hensley Township where he was Town Clerk, Assessor and Collector. Clark farmed until 1871 when he and a younger brother Martin, a physician, headed west to find a new location for a business. At the end of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad in Nebraska they found Sutton.

I. N. & Dr. Martin Clark also found Luther French in Sutton who’d recently formed the town on his homestead. French had 400 unsold lots which Clark brothers purchased for $4000. On November 1, 1871 they opened the first store on the railroad west of Crete. They then built a building 20X60 feet in which Dr. Clark opened a drug store and ten days later, Isaac opened a hardware store. This building was called the Clark House and later became a hotel and rooming house. By the fall of 1872 the hardware business had grown to warrant yet another building. 

The drug and hardware businesses were vital to the early development of the town with customers from throughout the surrounding areas. Among those customers were the Omaha Indians. A band of about 400 Indians camped on School Creek on their annual hunt and traded with the Clark hardware store for ammunition, hunter’s and trapper’s outfits and supplies. This roving band returned annually for several years afterwards camping near town for days and trading. The Indians campsite was in a popular picnic area for Sutton. It sat on about twelve acres of the French/Clark property where School Creek made a horseshoe bend. Negotiations began as early as 1872 to donate this area to the city for a park. The legal transfer of the park did not occur until 1883 but that’s another story, but a good one involving the railroad and a stubborn lady who loved trees. A monument in the center of the City Park commemorates the Clark brothers’ generosity to their adopted town.

As Sutton developed, Isaac Clark took on additional roles. He was elected a member of the Board of Village Trustees in 1876. Later that year when Sutton became a town, he was the first mayor and was reelected in 1878.

The Methodist Episcopal Church decided to build a new church in 1876 and chose Mr. Clark as Chairman of their Board of Trustees. He organized the Sutton Brick Company manufacturing bricks for that structure and others in the area. The kiln factory remains a Sutton attraction today, though fairly well hidden out on the north edge of town.

Dr. Martin Clark and I. N. Clark’s property was quickly sold off to new arrivals in town. I. N. Clark pursued the real estate business vigorously developing the Clark Addition to the west and later a Second Clark Addition. His modestly named Glen Lake development on a branch of School Creek was used for boating and fishing and yielded hundreds of tons of ice annually, the primary source for the town. Glen Lake was later more properly named Clark’s Pond.

I. N. and Mary Clark had five children. Twins Harry and Davie were born in Illinois though Davie died in their first year. Myra and Albert (Bertie) were also born in Illinois and Roy was born in Sutton. Myra graduated in Sutton High’s first class in 1884 and Bertie graduated two years later. The Chancellor of the State University attended Myra’s graduation and a special test that was given to her to determine if local graduates qualified for higher education. She was the first to enter the State University with no further examination. Bertie continued in business in Sutton including operating the ice business for twenty years. He identified his occupation in the 1910 census as “ice dealer”. He married Mayme Wieden, perhaps the most interesting woman of early Sutton. She became deputy postmaster immediately upon high school graduation in 1894. There was almost no religious, social, civic or educational activity that she wasn’t deeply involved in.

The Clark residences became Sutton landmarks. Isaac and Bertie’s houses still grace West Cedar Street. Isaac’s, the more modest, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of Gothic Revival architecture. Bertie’s house is a somewhat more substantial structure across the pond which looks down on that pond where Bertie collected and marketed his ice each winter.

All frontier towns need a variety of skilled and talented people. They needed merchants, developers, entrepreneurs, realtors, builders, politicians and visionaries. Sutton had a number of people who fit into some of those roles. But in Isaac Newton Clark, Sutton had all of those in one guy.

Mary Minor Clark died in 1916 at the age of 78. Dr. Martin Clark and Bertie Clark both died in 1922. Isaac Newton Clark died in 1927 at the age of 90. Mayme Wieden Clark lived to be 88 and died in 1963.

The Sutton Historical Society is honoring the founders and early settlers of Sutton with a sidewalk of inscribed commemorative bricks at the Historic House on Way Avenue. Everyone is invited to honor their own family members, especially those of the pioneer era by joining the society in this program. You are also invited to “adopt” or help to honor our important founders, like the Clarks, who have no descendants still living. The program is the major museum fundraiser and will provide much-needed repair of the sidewalk. Bricks are one hundred dollars each or three for $225. 

This posting first appeared as an article by Jerry Johnson in the October, 2009 issue of Sutton Life Magazine, 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979

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