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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Theater History. Courtesy: Telegraph Herald
ATHENAEUM. The Athenaeum was constructed in 1840 by James Marshall EMERSON and James Crider. (1) It was located on the second floor of a building constructed in 1833 by John G. SHIELDS and J. Hannibal EMERSON who used the lower story as a store. (2)

The theater had a single balcony and only two box seats located so close to the stage that it was impossible to see well from either. The seating arrangement was unique. The rows of seats followed around the parquet rail so that a person sitting on the extreme ends of the rows faced a side wall instead of the stage. In 1846 the building was renovated, enlarged, and called the CITY HOTEL by Richard Plumbe. In 1856 the proprietor was C. C. Hewitt. (3)

In 1859, the City Hotel was redecorated and renamed the Peosta House. (4) The name was changed twice within the next three years - Peosta Hall and Our New Hall. William G. STEWART purchased the building and began converting the Hall into Dubuque's fifth major theater in 1863. (5)

In 1864 the Athenaeum Theater was reopened. Although it hosted some of America's finest legitimate theater talent, it ceased to attract star performers when the GRAND OPERA HOUSE was built. (6)

In October 1876 the property was purchased for $28,000 by Edward W. Duncan and John Robert WALLER, Sr.. An article in the Dubuque Herald stated that it was the intention of the owners to renovate the interior of the building for an opera house. (7) The "old rat trap" as it was called at the time was carefully studied. Architects from Chicago concluded the building could be renovated. The owners proposed to do this, at an estimated cost from $10,000 to $20,000 if the citizens of Dubuque would purchase one thousand tickets at $5.00 each. (8)




1. Oldt, Franklin T. and Patrick J. Quigley, History of Dubuque County, Iowa Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1890, p. 51

2. "Mirth and Music," Dubuque Herald, December 28, 1877, p. 4. Online:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18771229&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Memories of the Fourth St. Theatre," Telegraph Herald, April 10, 1910, p. 6

4. "Inns of Yesteryear," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, April 30, 1933, p. 5

5. "Memories...

6. "Dubuque Before 1880," Telegraph Herald, November 2, 1933. p. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=BABCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1340,4189885&dq=lumber+yard+fires+dubuque&hl=en

7. "Prospect of An Opera House," Dubuque Herald, October 15, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18761015&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "Rejoice," Dubuque Herald, May 6, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770506&printsec=frontpage&hl=en