MUSCATINE, Iowa – Dan Clark and Kent Sissel are working to put Alexander Clark Sr. back in the books and on the map.
Clark, a Muscatine abolitionist during the 1800s, politician and local historical hero to many, may be remembered with the naming of the Alexander Clark Heritage District.
Clark helped create an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Muscatine, fought and defeated the state of Iowa for his daughter’s right to attend public school, and organized Iowa’s black Civil War regiment, the 60th United States Colored Infantry.
In a presentation to Muscatine City Council on Thursday night, local researchers Clark and Sissel, both of Muscatine, said the heritage district could be utilized as a marketing tool for cultural and history-loving visitors.
“He’s fascinatingly being dropped out of the history books,” Clark told the Council. “So we’re getting him back.”
The district would include the two-block area between Iowa Avenue and Pine Street along Third Street.
Sissel, who lives in the Alexander Clark home now located at 207 E. Third St. after a 1975 relocation, said keeping Clark’s memory alive and well requires the help of the Council.
Clark said the designation of a heritage district is different than that of a historic one: Residents would not be required to apply for permits to change or demolish property and no money would be required or any changes in ordinances.
The district would be a local district used for historical identification, Clark said, adding that he and Sissel have “several ideas” for how to market the history to visitors, including tours.
Clark said Alexander Clark’s history is well-known throughout the judicial, legal and academic communities, but doesn’t seem to have as much recognition in Muscatine, where the strong-willed abolitionist lived most of his life.
Clark said the consideration for the heritage district has been in discussion for the past year with neighbors and the State Historical Society of Iowa.
He said the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is also interested in assisting in “spreading the word about the district.”
Clark said there is also a possibility of Alexander Clark’s home being listed as a national historic landmark. He and Sissel are in the process of working with Paul Finkleman, historian and distinguished professor at Albany Law School in Albany, N.Y.
Sissel said Finkleman will be visiting Muscatine and other Iowa towns, like Oskaloosa and Iowa City, in late April to retrace the steps of African-American heritage in Iowa.
The possible nomination of the Clark house was recommended by the State Historical Society of Iowa, and Sissel hopes to have the support of Finkleman, who has authored other nominations.
“It’s the only site recommended from [the state of] Iowa,” Clark said of the historic home, adding that the federal government would like to include more sites related to African-American history.
Fifth Ward Council-woman Dyann Roby saw the presentation as a positive.
“If we can find more ways to attract people to Musca-tine, that’s great,” she said.
Second Ward Councilman Mark LeRette thanked Clark and Sissel for their presentations, adding “Hopefully this will be the foundation of a new heritage tourism.”
Council members did not make a decision on the recommendation but will decide in an upcoming meeting.
In other news
n Public Works director Randy Hill said salt levels are doing well despite the several snowstorms the area’s been hit with.
“We’re pretty well stocked,” Hill told Council, who unanimously approved the purchase of road rock salt for 2010-11.
The price is $59.82 per ton and the City will purchase two barge loads, the amount the city usually orders, Hill said.
Hill said each barge holds roughly 1,500 tons of salt.
So far this year, the City has used 2,100 tons of salt.
n The Muscatine Fire Department and local elementary schools will see a new Freddie the Fire Truck, thanks to the City Council’s unanimous approval of a motion to buy a new one.
Freddie the Fire Truck is portable, remote control fire truck brought to schools and used for teaching young children about fire safety.
Muscatine Fire Chief Jerry Ewers said the current Freddie the Fire Truck is going on 18 years old and “is excited to have a new one.”
The purchase will come from a grant for $12,400. The new Freddie will cost $12,158 and will be purchased from Robotronics.
“This has been a useful tool to teach elementary students about fire safety,” Third Ward Councilman Jerry Lange said.
n Steve Boka, director of Zoning and Building Safety, said the Census is just around the corner and encourages Muscatine County residents to fill out their 10-question Census forms when they arrive.
The Census, which has existed since 1790, is mailed out every ten years. More than $400 billion in federal is split up among cities across the country based on Census results, Boka said.
The Census is due, completed and “in the President’s hands by Dec. 31,” Boka said.
Census forms will be mailed out in the coming weeks.
City Council will meet for a budget meeting at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24 in the lower conference room, Muscatine City Hall.