Near Frontenac in Goodhue County, Minnesota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
Lake Pepin's Shell Game / In Search of Summer
—Great River Road Minnesota —
Lake Pepin's Shell Game
Celebrated today as a resort area, Lake Pepin had an earlier fame as a clamming center. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 500 clammers worked the lake from their flat-bottomed johnboats, using giant combs called crowfoot bars to rake the abundant mussel beds. In this way, they gathered mussel shells to sell to the button factories at Lake City.
With thirty-two species in its waters, Lake Pepin was unusually rich in mussels. Many bore colorful names, such as the pig-toe, pimpleback, pocketbook, washboard, elephant ear, heelsplitter, spectacle-case, sheepnose, and wartyback. Many were prized for their beautiful shells — and now and then a lucky clammer might land a pearl in the bargain.
The Clamming Industry
By 1898, there were nearly 50 button factories in cities along the Mississippi River. But the industry grew so rapidly that it soon began to exhaust the mussel supply. In 1914, Lake Pepin yielded eight million pounds of marketable shell; by 1929, the harvest was less than one-twentieth of that amount.
In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of commercial clamming in Lake Pepin. Pellets made from mussel shells are used by the Japanese cultured pearl industry to induce oysters to form peals.
Although some species of freshwater mussels remain abundant, many others are in danger of extinction. Mussels are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature, water flow, and sedimentation rates. Pollution from cities and eroded soil from agricultural land have had a major impact on water quality, as have pesticides, fertilizers, sewage effluent, and other contaminants. Even such activities as channel dredging and bridge construction can adversely affect mussels.
"Clammer at Work" and "Buttons and Pearls" illustrated by Bill Cannon
"Freshwater Mussels" illustrated by Don Luce
"Freshwater Mussels" illustration courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
"Freshwater Mussels" 1988, State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources
In Search of Summer
More than 100 songbirds species fly north to the Midwest when the weather is warm and food is abundant. In the fall, they follow summer south to the tropics of Mexico, the West Indies, and Central and South America.
[drawings of six bird species]
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak • Scarlet Tanager • Northern Oriole • Cerulean Warbler • Wood Thrush • Ovenbird
Photos and text courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
1988, State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources
Location. 44° 29.614′ N, 92° 18.762′ W. Marker is near Frontenac, Minnesota, in Goodhue County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Great River Road (U.S. 61 / 63) and 315th Street, on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is located in the Frontenac Roadside Parking Area / Lake Pepin Rest Area. Marker is in this post office area: Lake City MN 55041, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 4 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Fort Beauharnois (approx. 1.1 miles away); Maiden Rock (approx. 1.3 miles away in Wisconsin); Frontenac (approx. 2.4 miles away); Wakondiota Park (approx. 2˝ miles away); Christ Episcopal Church (approx. 2˝ miles away); The Sea Wing Disaster (approx. 3.1 miles away); Gold Star Memorial (approx. 3.4 miles away); The First Settler (approx. 3.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Frontenac.
More about this marker.
[Lake Pepin's Shell Game marker sidebar]
Most mussels require the presence of fish to survive. They begin life as parasitic larvae, attaching themselves to the gills or fins of host fish for 30 days or more.
More than 40 percent
Including its tributaries, the Mississippi River is North America's longest and largest river system, with a basin of 3.25 million square kilometers (1.25 million square miles).
[Lake Pepin's Shell Game marker captions]
Clammer at Work
Around the turn of the century, a Lake Pepin clammer lifts his crowfoot bar to inspect his catch.
The ebony shell mussel (left) and the elephant mussel (right) are two species of endangered mussels.
Buttons and Pearls
The shell of a large mussel (above) could produce many buttons. A mussel containing a pearl (left) was a rare and valuable find.
Also see . . .
1. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Mussel Bound in Minnesota. (Submitted on January 24, 2012.)
2. Lake City Historical Society. Lake Pepin Clamming. (Submitted on January 24, 2012.)
3. Minnesota Department of Transportation. Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventory. (Submitted on January 24, 2012.)
Categories. • Animals • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on January 24, 2012, by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 718 times since then and 39 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on January 24, 2012, by Keith L of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.