if you have an old button jar from a grandmother or great-grandma, you've likely flipped over a vintage button and seen the pearly, irridescent underside. Chances are good those buttons--cut from freshwater clams--went through the Lake Pepin Button Factory.
You can learn more about the clamming industry at this antique and gift store between Lake City's marina and downtown. The brick store was built in 1866 as a mercantile, then bustled as a button factory from 1914 to 1920--a time when roughly 50 percent of the world's buttons came from the Upper Mississippi River.
A few holey clams near the register shows how workers would drill circles from Mississippi clams before sending those "blanks" downriver to places such as Muscatine, Iowa, to be drilled and finished as buttons. The industry died out as the clam population decreased and plastics replicated that pearly look.
The former button factory had been closed for decades before opening as an antique and gift shop. There also are vintage photos of the factory days and shots of clamming and examples of clamming hooks.
Antiques fit well with exposed brick walls and pressed-tin ceilings. Antiques include metal signs and sepia photos, crocks and a jukebox, stained-glass and fishing poles. Interspersed with collectibles are gifts such as hats, jewelry, soaps and Minnesota-made salsas made with blueberries, apples and raspberries.
It's an eclectic selection, but memorable for the slice of history served on a clamshell.
Gifts start at $5.