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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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DUBUQUE AND DUNLEITH FERRY. The first ferry across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER between Dunleith, Illinois, and Dubuque, Iowa, was a primitive craft established by General George Wallace JONES by lashing two Native American canoes together. First used June 2, 1828, the craft was rowed with oars.

During the fall or winter of 1828, Jones transferred his franchise to Thomas Jordan in exchange for transporting Jones' MINING products back and forth across the river. For several years, Jordan's Ferry operated between Dunleith and Dubuque. During periods of high water, the ferry landed at the intersection of Jones and Main STREETS. In low water months, the ferry moored on an island opposite the foot of Jones Street. Freight was carried at a rate of 12.5 cents per hundred pounds.

Jordan built a new ferry in 1832 similar to the FLATBOATS often seen on the Mississippi. This he operated until 1836 when General Jones repurchased the ferry for $15,000. One year later, Jones obtained a charter from the State of Illinois to incorporate "Jordan's Ferry," a new operation with horse-powered machinery that replaced the flatboat. In 1840 Augustus L. and Charles H. GREGOIRE began the purchase of interests in the Jones operation which resulted by 1841 in their owning the entire operation.

In 1853 Timothy Fanning, a business rival, filed a legal action against the Illinois ferry operation to prevent them from maintaining a ferry across the river from Dubuque. Fanning claimed an exclusive right to the franchise under terms of a charter granted by the Territorial Legislature on December 14, 1838. This issue was finally settled in the case of FANNING V. GREGOIRE , argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1853.

By 1858 the company claimed to have lost $8,273. This was denied and argued in the newspapers. In March, 1859, the Dubuque and Dunleith Ferry Company was required to run their boats thereafter from the foot of Third street instead of from the foot of Jones street. Charles Gregoire was president of the ferry company.

In 1876 the ferry, owned by Bart Linehan, asked the city council for an appropriation of two hundred dollars per month so that it could be operated economically. The EAGLE POINT FERRY had previously asked for the same amount. (1)

In January 1877 a report was made that the company was overcharging. This led to the following statement in the Dubuque Herald:

                The rates charged are only one-half the charter
                allows and is in no instance more than 50 cents
                for a double team, round trip. The man who says
                otherwise is a double distilled Choctaw,
                Camanchee (sic), pusillanimous son-of-a-gun, and 
                of no more consequence than a Boston bondholder 
                in a western railroad. (2)

As efforts grew to build a bridge across the river, the company reminded Dubuque residents through the Dubuque Herald of its activity. For the summer of 1877 with the exception of storms, the ferry had not remained on the Iowa side of the river between 6:00 a.m. and sunset more than ten minutes at any one time. This was also true for being on the Illinois shore. (3)



1. "The Ferry," Dubuque Herald, April 11, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760411&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 8, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760108&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Crossing the River," Dubuque Herald, July 28, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770728&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Histyorical Company, 1880 http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-24-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml