LANSING, Iowa - The welcome sign along Hwy. 26 at the north entrance to Lansing, Iowa, tells visitors this is "where eagles soar."

The sign symbolizes the community's transition from a Mississippi River town known for timber harvesting, commercial fishing and clamming, to one known more for tourism and outdoor sports.

"We've (Lansing) expanded into tourism, with people traveling and appreciating the beauty of the area," said Paul Horsfall, owner of Horsfall's Lansing Variety Store and Horsfall's Store, both on Main Street in downtown Lansing.

He said Lansing is especially busy in the summer, when tourists and outdoor sports enthusiasts stay in area cabins and campgrounds. And after visiting the area, some of Lansing's newest residents have moved there from larger cities such as the Twin Cities, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Des Moines, Horsfall said.

But Lansing's population has grown slowly, to 1,012 in 2000 from 1,007 in 1990, according to U.S. Census figures.

Few vacant storefronts

Still, there are only a few vacant storefronts on Main Street, Horsfall said. "We've been blessed for a town our size," he said. "We still have a lumber yard, an auto parts store, a full-size grocery store. We've got several industries," such as Northern Engraving, Blumenthal Lansing Co. and the nearby Alliant Energy power plant.

Blumenthal Lansing traces its history to 1897, when steamboat captain Jeremiah M. Turner started the Turner Button Co., which made buttons from Mississippi River clam shells. The Lansing business quit making buttons in the early 1930s, and today buys them from button manufacturers. It packages and distributes them for sale nationwide.

Exhibits on the history of clamming, button making, ice harvesting, commercial fishing and steamboats in the Lansing area are some of the highlights of the Museum of River History, which sisters Karen Galema and Janet Henkel operate in a former grain elevator building (constructed in 1868) at 50 S. Front St. near the river. It's filled with fishing nets, wooden boats, old boat motors, ice-harvesting equipment, historic photos, miniature steamboats, two horse-drawn sleighs, a buggy and a surrey.

Karen and husband, Gary - who was fire chief until 1999 - managed the Lansing Fisheries fish market until it closed in 1989. Her father, Harold Verdon, was a commercial fisherman and had managed the fish market before them. The fish market shipped carp, buffalo, sheepshead and catfish to customers around the country.

The museum began as a temporary display at the annual Lansing Fish Days celebration in 1989. It became a museum about three years ago, and usually is open on Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to mid-October.

Many historic buildings

Galema said the community has many historic buildings, such as the one at 650 S. Second St. that served as the Allamakee County Courthouse from 1861 to 1867 (Waukon now is the county seat). The first Lansing Art and Historical Walk last June directed visitors to historic buildings and is expected to be an annual event.

Galema is president of the nonprofit Old Stone School Corp., which has been working to save the Old Stone School at Fifth and Center streets. The school was built of stone in 1863, opened in 1864 and closed in 1973. The nonprofit corporation deeded it to the city five years ago so the building would qualify for government grants for restoration.

Some vital structural repairs have been made to the building since last fall. Galema hopes a decision will be made this year on a use for the building, which will determine how it is renovated.

Bridge lights planned

Galema also is a member of bridge lighting committee sponsored by the Lansing Lions Club. The committee is spearheading a plan to install permanent decorative lighting along the top of the Black Hawk Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River at Lansing.

Buying and installing the lights is expected to cost about $65,000, committee chairman Bruce ReVoir said. Nearly $24,000 has been raised, and the lights might be installed this year if two grant applications are approved.

The bridge, named after the Sac Indian chief Black Hawk, was completed in 1931.

Tourists often photograph the bridge and river from Mount Hosmer, a city park that rises 450 feet above the river. The park - which is closed in the winter - was named after Harriet Hosmer, an Eastern artist who climbed the steep bluff during an 1851 steamboat trip.

Mount Hosmer hill was donated to the Lansing American Legion post in 1920. Two years later, 634 white pine trees were planted in memory of each Allamakee County veteran of World War I. Most of the trees were destroyed in a 1925 fire.

In 1926, the American Legion donated the property to the city for a memorial park, which was dedicated in 1928. Flag poles and memorial tablets were placed on three overlook points in 1928 in memory of three Lansing men who died in the war - William Beck, Robert Strong and George Glynn.

Mount Hosmer rededicated

On Veterans Day last November, Mount Hosmer was rededicated as a memorial park to the county's World War I veterans. Six white pine trees had been planted near the surviving white pine trees, as a symbolic replacement of the trees destroyed by fire, and three memorial stones were put in place. Informational plaques will be put on the stones this spring.

"We think it's perhaps the most prominent World War I memorial in the Midwest, because it overlooks the Mississippi River and the entire park is a World War I memorial," said committee member Bill Burke, who also is a Lansing City Council member.

A Lansing native, Burke operates a professional planning consulting business and wrote the Lansing centennial history book published in 1967. Last year, he released his latest book, "The Upper Mississippi Valley," on the history of that region.

History dates to 1840s

A Mr. Garrison settled in the area in 1848 and apparently was the same person - Willis S. Garrison, appointed postmaster in 1849 - who named the post office Lansing, after his hometown of Lansing, Mich. Lansing was incorporated in 1867.

"In the early years, we had a resource-based economy with the river and woodlands," Burke said. Commercial fishing, clamming, trapping, timber harvesting and farming were the dominant industries. "The economy has shifted from resource-based to the economy of most towns," Burke said.

"We have a fairly diverse Main Street, with general-purpose stores like the grocery store and variety store, and specialty businesses such as the antique stores," Burke said.


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