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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.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Stock certificate
Special ticket book. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Special ticket book. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Dubuque Electric Railway, Light and Power Company was started in 1889 by the Allen and Swiney Company. In 1890 the company entered a three-part bidding contest with the UNITED STATES ELECTRIC LIGHT AND POWER COMPANY and the DUBUQUE STREET RAILWAY COMPANY for a contract to place between 35-70 electric lights at intersections within the city limits of Dubuque. Although U.S. Electric won the bid, it was unable to complete the work within the set amount of time and the work was given to Dubuque Electric.

Many of the city's businesses were first illuminated by incandescent lighting on July 11, 1890. The Herald reported that the lights were not as bright as expected, but that this would be soon corrected when the "dynamo and circuits were properly regulated in a few days." (1) On October 25, 1890 the first permanent electric lights were turned on at fifty traffic intersections. These replaced the gas lamps that had been used since the 1860s. Electric lights became increasingly popular and the number of lights around the city expanded.

While lighting was a priority of the company, so was the construction of streetcar lines. The Dubuque Electric Railway, Light and Power Company brought electric streetcars to Dubuque. On May 23, 1890, the Dubuque Herald reported that the man who goes to bed in the vicinity of Main and Fifth used language "last night which nullified his path to glory." Allen & Swiney's men were cutting steel rails to put in their crossing and "the deep notes strolled quite a distance in the night air." (2)

The first car to operate on the Allen & Swiney line made the trip from the power house to the race track on May 27, 1890. Passengers on that historic trip were T. O. Swiney, partner in the firm; Dan McGugin, track contractor; a reporter from the Dubuque Herald; and five workmen to clean rock off the track. The objective of the trip was to test the automatic switches; they all performed perfectly. All that remained was to complete the track from the power house to 8th Street and the installation of the insulated crossing. Both of these were scheduled for completion on May 28th. The electricity was to be turned on with transportation possible for everyone in one week. (3)

By the end of May, notice was given that rails and ties had been distributed for a line to LINWOOD CEMETERY. (4) Reports by June 8, 1890 indicated that six miles of track had been laid including a line to Dodge Street. (5) Regular trips were made every ten minutes beginning at 7:00 a.m. The fare charged was five cents to the city limits, ten cents to the race track, or fifteen cents for the round trip. (6) The popularity of the new streetcars was proven when the company announced that it had carried 5,121 passengers on Sunday, June 15, 1890 with the primary destinations being Linwood Cemetery and the DUBUQUE SHOOTING PARK. (7) By June 19, 1890 the timetable had been changed. The cars operated from 6:00 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 7:00 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. on Sunday. (8)

On June 21, 1890 an announcement was made that new signs on the Allen and Swiney streetcars informed the rider of which car to take to a destination. (9) Such announcements including one that Rt. Rev. Bishop Hennessy was pleased with his first experience as a rider may have been made to counter the rapidly developing competition from the DUBUQUE STREET RAILWAY COMPANY. In January, 1891 the company during a sale of stock announced that on average each of its cars earned $19.50. (10)

Streetcar track was laid to Stewart's Park (later UNION PARK in the fall of 1890. Poles were erected beginning in April 1891 with trolley wire to be installed immediately after all the poles were in place. (11)

In September 1891 the company was faced with an angry city council. The firm was ordered to build their line on South Dodge within thirty days or their charter could be revoked. (12) The company agreed to lay track during the fall with all parties realizing that everything could not be completed. Operating street cars on the site would also require heavier motors. (13) This did not satisfy the city council which held on October 5, 1891 the first reading of an ordinance to revoke the company's charter. (14) In December, the company was rapidly working on Dodge under a council resolution that work had to be finished in two weeks. (15)

In 1892 the creditors of the Dubuque Electric Railway, Light and Power Company applied for the appointment of a receiver. This came about after a meeting in Chicago in early March 1892at which it appeared there had been great financial mismanagement of the company. An accountant called in to inspect the records found that in the previous two years $100,000 had been spent without vouchers. It was charged that Allen and Swiney had appropriated $95,000 in company funds. Dr. Allen had since returned to the practice of medicine in Davenport, Iowa and T. O. Swiney was a bookkeeper for a cigar manufacturer in the same city. (16)

Dr. Allen denied there was $95,000 missing and pointed to large bond holders who holding $250,000 in company bonds were opposed to the receivership. At a meeting of the directors held in Dubuque, it was unanimously decided to oppose the appointment. (17)

Litigation continued on April 8, 1892 when suits were filed in court on three notes with a value of $13,500. An attorney for creditors in Chicago holding claims of $40,000 had been in Dubuque for several days. Defenders of the railroad claimed that the company had paid operating expenses during the winter and had also paid off some of the debt. (18) On April 21, 1892 $40,000 in judgements were levied against the company in favor of the St. Louis Car Company, Edison General Electric Company, Thomson-Houston Company, and the Heine Safety Boiler Company. (19) In pressing for a receiver for the company, the petitioners used the suits as evidence. Judge Oliver Perry SHIRAS expressed himself strongly in favor of judgment creditor having a receiver appointed, but took the paper to consider the case. (20) It was reported that the Thomson-Houston Company would purchase the line if it were sold and that $50,000 in improvements would be made. (21)

On May 11, 1892 Horace POOLE was appointed a receiver for the Allen and Swiney company. (22) One of his first actions was to standardize the number of runs to Stewart Park (UNION PARK) each day at ten cars each way with more for special occasions. (23)

The company was put up for sale on January 12, 1893 effective in March on a cash basis. The order of receiver was made on the application of the Bay State Trust Company, the trustee of the first mortgage for $200,000. The company did most of its business in the summer months, but it was thought there would not be enough equipment to handle the new business in the summer of 1893. It was estimated to provide this new equipment would require between $40,000 to $50,000. (24) In November the company reduced its service to cut costs by withdrawing four cars from service which reduced eight motor conductors and as many attendants. (25)

On March 1, 1893, the company was sold for $225,000 to the Old Colony Trust Company of Boston, Massachusetts. It was the only bid made. (26)

The company was later reorganized as the DUBUQUE LIGHT AND TRACTION COMPANY.

Employee photograph. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The long sign in the right of this photo identifies the company headquarters near the Julien

See: William L. ALLEN



1. "The Incandescent Light Started," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 12, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900712&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 23, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900524&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "The Trial Trip," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 28, 1890, p. 4.

4. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 31, 1890, p. 4

5. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 8, 1890, p. 4

6. "Allen & Swiney Get Their Cars Under Full Headway to the Race Track," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 10, 1890, p. 4

7. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 17, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900617&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "Allen and Swiney's Time Table," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 19, 1890, p. 4.

9. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 21, 1890, p. 4

10. "Selling Solid Stock," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 30, 1891, p. 4

11. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 2, 1891, p. 4

12. "Will Forfeit a Franchise," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 22, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910922&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "The Dodge Street Line," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 26, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910926&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

14. "Charging on a Charter," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 6, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18911006&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

15. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 11, 1891, p. 4.

16. "Found a Big Shortage," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 29, 1892, p. 4

17. "Object to a Receiver," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 31, 1892, p. 4

18. "Took Another Turn," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 9, 1892, p. 4

19. "United States Court," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 22, 1892, p. 4

20. "Tells A Strong Story," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 29, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920429&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

21. "The Warring Creditors," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 6, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920506&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

22. "The Court Takes Control," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 12, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920512&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

23. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 29, 1892, p. 8.

24. "The Sale Ordered," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 12, 1893, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18930112&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

25. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 4, 1893, p. 4

26. "Sold for $225,000," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 2, 1893, p. 4