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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Location of the original shooting park from Andres Historical Atlas.
The "shooting park."Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY. Iowa's oldest existing club. Originally known as the Schuetzen Gesellschaft, the Society was founded in 1856. (1) The club's one hundred-sixty yard range at 27th and Jackson STREETS near the DUBUQUE BREWING AND MALTING COMPANY was the scene of frequent intercity and interstate shooting competition. (2) The area was known as "the sharpshooters' grounds." The hills to the east served as a background for the targets.

All of the charter members were of German descent, and none were native-born Dubuque residents. Among the charter members were men influential in BREWERIES, businesses, factories, RAILROADS and trades. Membership has not been a birthright, but many of the current members can trace their family names through generations of Society members. The Society was formally incorporated on June 28, 1865. (3)

Dubuque held the first schuetzenfest (shooting match) in 1868. Among those involved were Joseph A. RHOMBERG, Richard KOLCK, Adam Francis JAEGER, and Henry BECKER. Outside competitors from throughout the Midwest competed with local shooters for such prizes as a $325 buggy, $125 in gold, and 1,000 cigars. Dubuque competitors won 22 prizes. (4)

On August 17, 1875 rules of the organization were changed. Up to that date, anyone who could not speak German was excluded from membership. The change made was that anyone in good standing regardless of nationality could be a member. (5)

In 1877 the Society ordered 1,200 glass balls, the newest type of target used by sportsmen. There were to be two "shoots" per month. (6)

The annual shooting tournaments by 1886 had expanded into three or four day affairs with colorful banners hung around town. The parade signaled the last of the festivities before the competition began. Officers of the Dubuque Schuetzen Gesellschaft marched at the head, followed by the mayor, who was followed by marksmen from nearby communities dressed in their finest and carrying their enormous target rifles. (7)

The Dubuque competitors again placed well. Joe Kutsch and Henry Saunders tied for first place. The top ten included W. W. WORMOOD, Andrew GEHRIG, Alfred Schmidt and Paul Butt in addition of outside competitors. Sizable money prizes went to Joe Kutsch with two "firsts" and one "second," Peter KLAUER, John Hartig and Mathias M. HOFFMANN, Sr. (8)

In 1886 plans were made to start the MINNESOTA AND NORTHWESTERN RAILROAD. The mainline would cut through the Society's property. (9) This led to the membership of the Society beginning a search for new property. In January 1887, a committee appointed to select a new site reported favorably about purchasing the home of Mathias HAM and the grounds surrounding it. It was "the only available piece of property in the city." (10)

On July 11, 1887, members of the Society formed into lines. With many of the members shouldering huge target rifles, the men marched north on Couler (now Central) Avenue preceded by a band. When the columns neared 30th Street, the men climbed into horse-drawn carriages for the ride to their new twenty-three acre park at the same location it held in 2017. (11)

This natural amphitheater, which became known as the Shooting Park, proved ideal for shooting and maintaining privacy. The park fronted the old Sageville Road, presently Highway 52 North and had once been the location of the county poorhouse farm. Purchased by the Society for $3800, the area was landscaped and planted in trees at the additional cost of $3,100. A meeting hall was constructed for $1000. Carriage sheds, target house, and shooting room with eight targets linked to electric bells cost another $1100. Across the road from the Shooting Society was the range used by the DUBUQUE GUN CLUB. Some members of the Society were also members of the other club, and the Shooting Society allowed their property to be used by the Gun Club for some of its activities.

Papers were filed to reincorporate on May 17, 1890. (12) It was at this time that the name became the Dubuque Shooting Society.

Although the Society was private, non-members were allowed to hold picnics on the grounds and were invited to band concerts and special events.

Shooting remained a principal sport. Among the contests few held more attention that the "King" shoot held annually. The top scorer was held the title "King of the Gesellschaft" until the next year's competition. Among those receiving the title were Joe Kutsch, William H. KLAUER, W. W. Wormood and Richard Kolck. "Turkey shoots" at which the bird was tied to a stake two or three hundred yards away were also popular. A shooter could claim the bird if he could hit it within an allotted number of shots. (13)

Eventually three clubs formed within the Society. The first came after WORLD WAR I. Called the 330 Club, named for the time its members met for practice shooting and a social hour, members were employees of the DUBUQUE BREWING AND MALTING COMPANY. These men met after work on every other Thursday afternoon. (14) The second club was formed in the late 1920s. (15) This was called the 660 Club. This name signified the dinner time--6:00 p.m. plus 60 minutes--that they met on alternative Thursdays. (16) In 1949 the third club to be formed was the 990. The number had no significance other than being a multiple of the original 330. They met every second Monday at 5:00 p.m. While each of the three clubs had its rules and procedures, all operated under the Society by-laws. The three clubs met together twice annually, at the annual meeting in February and at a picnic in July. There are a total of two hundred members. New members are only accepted when there is a vacancy and only with the sponsorship of a current member. Each new member must purchase one share of the society's two hundred shares of stock, at a price of $200. (17)

The Society has often shared its facilities with the community for such events as receptions, reunions, and political events. (18) Three hundred guests have been accommodated at one time. Today invitations to meetings and special events from club members are considered cherished honors. In 1991 members of the Dubuque Police Department used the shooting range for training on new semi-automatic pistols. (19)

New facilities constructed around 2010.
In 1978 plans were drawn to route a divided, four-lane highway through southern portion of the Society's twenty-two acre property. (20) Society members at the time expressed their fear such an intrusion would mean the end to the clubs and park. (21) On June 14, 1978, the Dubuque City Council halted the highway plans as it affected the Society. (22) Eventually the northwest arterial was constructed west of Dubuque to meet with Highway 151 near the John Deere Road miles north of the shooting park.

In 2006 while seeking bids to remodel the restrooms in the existing building and make them handicapped accessible, the board of directors asked for a general assessment of the entire building. The report indicated that sections of the building had been constructed prior to 1897. While adequate in the past, modifications in electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling, and ventilation were needed to bring the building up to code. Estimates for the work were as high as $950,000. (23) This option was never pursued. A committee was also requested to develop a plan for a new building. This proposal with a base cost of $1,789,500 was rejected by the membership on a vote of 57 to 121. Following this decision, the Society's board of directors declared a budget of $1 million. One committee composed of two members from each of the three clubs planned the financing while a similar committee handled design and construction. A plan for a log building was placed before the membership on October 15, 2008 and approved by a vote of 117 t0 40. (24)



1. Palmer, David and Oleson, Gary. Schuetzenfest: Dubuque Shooting Society Celebrating 150 Years, 2015, Preface

2. Tigges, John L. and Shaffer, James L. Then and Now: Dubuque, Iowa. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing Company, 2000, p. 17

3. Kirchen, Rich. "Camaraderie 'Hallowed' to Society, Telegraph Herald, Dec. 16, 1985, p. 5. Onliner: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jcdFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0ucMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4781,2117145&dq=dubuque+brewing+and+malting+company&hl=en

4. Key, Harley. "Shooting Society 90 Years Old," Telegraph-Herald, February 3, 1946, p. 9

5. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 19, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18750819&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, November 28, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18771128&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. Key

8. Ibid.

9. Tigges, John L. and Shaffer, James L.

10. "Looking for a Shooting Park," Daily Herald, January 27, 1887

11. Ibid.

12. "Shooting Society Incorporated," Dubuque Herald, May 17, 1890, p. 4

13. Key

14. Kirchen, Rich.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Local News in Brief, Dubuque Daily Herald, Aug. 3, 1890, p. 9. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JulkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LHcNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2677,4879510&dq=dubuque+shooting+society&hl=en

18. Bagarsian, Tom. "Police Training at Shooting Park," Telegraph Herald, Apr. 8, 1991, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=oGtFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=VrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5248,1397704&dq=dubuque+shooting+society&hl=en

19. Bulkley, John. "Shooting Club Takes Aim At Highway," May 4, 1978, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=kcJBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=B6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4629,523183&dq=dubuque+shooting+society&hl=en

20. Ibid.

21. "Two Routes for Northwest Arterial Endorsed," Telegraph Herald, June 8, 1978, p. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zNhBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=D6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6890,966713&dq=dubuque+shooting+society&hl=en

22. Ibid.

23. Palmer and Oleson, p. 46

24. Ibid. p, 47

Ellsworth, Ted. "The Dubuque Shooting Society," Dubuque Folklore II, American Trust and Savings Bank, p. 57-64