“Miss Stone was a leader of the women of her generation. She was one of the first women in Iowa to take over the promotion of community betterment projects.” This tribute to Susan Fitch Stone, appearing in the Muscatine Journal following her death in 1930, describes a woman of action, one dedicated to the greater good of her community.
On September 20, 1858, Susan was born in Muscatine to early settlers Charles and Mary Humphreys Stone. Susan spent her childhood years in the West Hill neighborhood. After her father sold his flourishing hardware business, the family moved to a rural property on north Mulberry. There her father began another successful career growing fruit and raising ponies.
Throughout her adult life, Susan focused energy and time on projects to benefit Muscatine. Her article “The Town Beautiful” was featured in the May 1904 edition of The Craftsman, published in New York by Gustav Stickley. Susan provided a thorough discussion of community improvement projects in several Midwestern cities and smaller towns, emphasizing the benefits and design of public parks. It is not surprising then that Susan is most remembered for the establishment of the park we still enjoy and know today as Riverside Park.
The Mississippi riverfront was an eyesore until Susan spearheaded a civic association to clean up the area and to stop railroad expansion and other commercial development. She remained diligent for years, resisting pressure from other entities to develop the site for commercial purposes.
The site, a small area of land located east of Sycamore Street, was approved for improvement in 1909. The mayor gave Susan full authority to accomplish the project. Plans included such features as flower beds, benches, and attractive signage. Eventually the park expanded eastward and became known as Riverside Park. An inscribed granite bench was placed in the park in 1949 by the Twentieth Century Club to honor Susan posthumously as park founder. It has since been relocated near the Riverview Center.
In 1906 the Weed Park Club was considering the proper placement of the cannons which had been purchased for display. Susan expressed her opinion, based on military authority, that the cannons be mounted upward in an ornamental display rather than forward in a combative position. She presented photos of guns located around the country that were pointed skyward. Despite her appeal, the cannons were aimed straight on, as originally proposed.
In March of 1911, the Iowa legislature was in debate about a bill to appropriate funds for free short-course terms, one for each of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties. These short courses likely were early versions of what would become county extension programs. Susan received urgent requests from two faculty members of the Iowa Agricultural College in Ames that she attend legislative sessions to support passage of the bill. Susan invited recent college graduate Miss Amy Hoopes of Muscatine to accompany her. Both women had previously attended a short course and were in favor of the bill.
Susan’s ideas to improve the systems of the local postal service were implemented. She also led a successful movement to reduce the annoying smoke emitted from trains passing through Muscatine.
Susan was a founding member and officer of the Twentieth Century Club, a research and study group still active today as The Century Club. She served on the first board of managers of the Julia Elizabeth Home for Women, incorporated in 1895 as a home for elderly ladies. She was a lifelong member of Trinity Episcopal Church.
After the death of her brother in 1916, Susan managed the Stone farm property. She lived at home until her death on October 1, 1930, at age 72.
Two days after Susan’s death, an editorial in the Muscatine Journal stated: “Throughout the years of her long and useful life, Miss Stone never spared herself, her time, or her energies when she saw an opportunity to accomplish good for the community. She is perhaps best known for her successful campaign to transform an ugly stretch of riverfront into beautiful Riverside Park, and it is entirely fitting that a younger generation, enjoying the benefits of her foresight, ability and courage, should pay tribute to the forceful personality that has meant so much to Muscatine and vicinity.”