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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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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
AVENUE TOP MINING COMPANY. The Avenue Top Mine produced LEAD ore up to 1880. In that year, two wagon loads of zinc ore were transported from the McNulty or "Avenue Top" mine to Benton, Wisconsin and sold for $16 a ton. This marked the beginning of ZINC mining at the site which lasted through 1907. (1) One of Dubuque's richest zinc producers, the Avenue Top Company was incorporated with $25,000 on January 19, 1906. Officers included Frank Coates, Sr., president; David Metcalf, vice-president, Harker Brentnal SPENSLEY, Sr., treasurer; J. W. Watters, secretary; and Robert BONSON David Metcalf, John D. Spensley, and J. W. Watters, trustees. (2) In 1907 Joseph John OTT was the largest stockholder and active manager. (3)

One of the first considerations was the safety of the miners. As it existed in 1906, the mine had only one shaft. If fire had occurred, the miners would have had no escape. This was resolved by cleaning and repairing the "Marsh" shaft. This provided additional high quality ore as well as an escape route. As the newspaper reported this resulted in the "transformation from a crude, rough windlass system of operating to working on a modern and scientific basis. The mine was also complying with state law. (4)

In May 1907 an announcement was made that the mine would begin operations after a mill was erected and arrangements were completed for handling the ore. Original plans called for a mill to process the ore to be built on property several blocks to the west. These plans were changed. (5) Ore from the Avenue Top was processed through a company operated concentrator at the bottom of Third Street near the downtown railroad yard. When it was first tested in September 1907 it ran at full capacity for a few hours and produced ten tons of concentrate. (6) Since the directors of the water department refused to extend water mains to the mill, the company had to erect its own well to obtain water for the mill's boilers. (7)

Water proved a problem for the mine by 1909. By November, 1909 the mine had been closed for several months as pumps were used around the 14th of the month to dry up the mine as much as possible. A syndicate of New York investors were interested in the property as well as other mines in the area. Their intent was to buy all the mines and place them under one management. (8) When the mine closed due to financial problems, the mill was sold to the operators of the GOOSE HORN MINE.

During the week that ended October 19, 1907 the Avenue Top Mill processed 75 tons of concentrate zinc, an average the superintendent expected to maintain. Because the ore assayed so high, the loss of running at a higher level would be too costly. The mill operated ten hours per day for six days a week. (9)

The purchase of the Avenue Top by the Acquanico Mining and Development Company was controversial. Before the sale could be finalized, the taxes on the property, amounting to several hundred dollars had to be paid. Instead, a petition was filed with the city council asking that the taxes be cancelled. The petition was granted by the council, but vetoed by the mayor, Henry A. SCHUNK. The council then passed the cancellation over the veto. The veto of the mayor attracted the attention of State Examiner Cox of the state auditor's office. Cox reported, the mayor "seems to believe that laws were made to be obeyed...The action of your committee of the whole (the rest of the council) cancelling a portion of the taxes of 1907, 1908, and 1909...(was) wholly illegal and void." (10) The issue of the cancelled taxes was still a subject editorial by the Telegraph-Herald on August 18, 1910. No record of the council's action being rescinded has been found.

The sale of the mine was the subject of an editorial. On January 3, 1910 the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald stated its opinion that

                   the mining industry in Dubuque had suffered because of bad management 
                   of several mines and prospects. In their enthusiasm, "very good merchants 
                   assumed their own ability to develop mining properties, and they paid for 
                   their experience... The lore of the old lead miners was accepted as prophecy 
                   and rainbows were chased...Thorough development of the Avenue Top Mine 
                   will be awaited as of value in determining whether mining operations
                   intelligently directed and economically conducted can be made to yield
                   dividends on the investment.

The Acquanico Mining Company owned gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc mines nation-wide. Its purchase of the Avenue Top was then heralded at the "beginning of a revival of the mining industry in Dubuque." The mine had just reached the 185 foot level and a "rich body of ore" when the previous company had run out of money and the mine had been closed. The present machinery, considered totally inadequate, was to be "torn out" and replaced with new machinery of almost three times the present capacity. "It will be merely a matter of a few months until the greatest revival of the mining industry this section has ever seen will be in full swing." (11)

Around 1920 the "industry vanished" owing to the exhaustion of the principal mines, lessened richness of the ore in others, water in the mines higher wage scales and depression in the value of the product. (12) The site of the Avenue Top Mine, located at what was later 1094 University Avenue and part of the S. M. Langworthy Addition, was sold as city property in 1926. (13) Dubuque residents living in the area remember it took days and trucks filled with rock and other materials to fill the mine shaft before the site could be covered with dirt. (14)

Diagram courtesy: Iowa Geological Survey Annual Report



1. "Julien Dubuque and the Lead Mines," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, May 15, 1923, p. 11

2. "Will Ott Leader Avenue Top '07?" Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 27, 1906, p. 2

3. "Avenue Top Mines Begin Work," Telegraph-Herald, April 10, 1906, p. 20

4. "Avenue Top Sets Pace in Dubuque," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 28, 1906, p. 11

5. "Avenue Top Will be Over Hauled," Telegraph-Herald, May 22, 1907, p. 3

6. "Goose Horn is Looking Well," Telegraph-Herald, September 23, 1907, p. 3

7. "Avenue Top to Sink Drive Well," Telegraph-Herald, September 11, 1907, p. 18

8. "Big Mining Deal is in Progress," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 14, 1909, p. 4

9. "A.T.'s Mill Had a Big Week's Run," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, October 20, 1907, p. 4

10. "Tax Exemptions and the Mayor's Veto," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 29, 1910, p. 4

11. "New Owners Open Avenue Top Mine," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 2, 1910, p. 9

12. "Julien Dubuque..."

12. "Notice of Sale of City Property," Telegraph-Herald, September 2, 1926, p. 15

13. Interview with Charlotte Ragatz KELLY 1980