"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

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
Jump to: navigation, search
Dubuque's Wagon Bridge and Dubuque-Dunleith (Railroad) Bridge
DUBUQUE WAGON BRIDGE. The completion of the railroad lines to Sioux City, Iowa by the DUBUQUE AND SIOUX CITY RAILROAD, then a subsidiary and later a part of the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD resulted in 1867 in the creation of the Dubuque and Dunleith Bridge Company. (1)

The planned construction of a RAILROAD BRIDGE increased interest in Dubuque for a passenger bridge which would span the MISSISSIPPI RIVER opening business with Illinois and Wisconsin. In 1873 engineers of the Dunleith and Dubuque Bridge Company speculated that a sixteen-foot wide track bridge could be constructed for between $60,000 to $75,000. (2) The idea was taken to the Dubuque City Council in December and a citizens' committee was established to confer with the council. (3) A petition was soon presented to the city council in favor of altering the planned railroad bridge to allow "persons on foot, or on horseback, of wagons, carriages, mail stage coaches...free of charge at all times...except on whilst the regular freight or passenger trains of cars are in motion..or whilst the bridge by by thrown open for the passage of steamboats." (4)

In January, 1874 a poll of citizens was taken as to who supported calling a meeting of citizens to discuss how a bridge could be obtained. (5)

In January 1877 a resolution of the city council was passed relating to the planking of the railroad bridge. The resolution proposed that a committee be appointed to confer with the bridge company and the supervisors of Dubuque and Dunleith counties with the goal of obtaining a free wagon and foot way across the railroad bridge. (6) Attention to detail was certainly evident. Caleb H. BOOTH announced plans to visit Council Bluffs to investigate the method that city used for passing teams and stock on a bridge. Dubuque businessmen wanted a steady flow of business to and from Dunleith. (7)

When the planking idea failed, MAYOR William J. KNIGHT led a delegation of five council members and three citizens to Council Bluffs. That city had installed a "ferry-car" invented by P. P. Sherry for use on railroad bridges. The visitors were told that the ideal flat car would have 20" diameter wheels and be 14' wide to allow two wagons and teams to be transferred by an engine at the same time. The sides of the ferry-car and the top were boarded up to keep the horses from becoming frightened. The Council Bluffs operation could take buggies and cattle at the same time--using bars to separate the two cargoes. (8)

The idea of a "ferry boat" met with stiff opposition from the Bridge Company. It declared that it would not grant the right unless the city and the railroad each paid $80,000 annually. The Illinois Central wanted to pay less since it was their bridge on which the "ferry" would operate. (9)

In 1878 the desirability of a bridge, while unquestioned, was being met with questions of paying for it. At a meeting called by a committee appointed to confer with the city council, Marshall M. WALKER, the chairperson, expressed his personal feelings. Walker did not believe the burden of payment should fall solely on the businessmen of Dubuque. He believed money should be raised in the form of a tax. He also believed the city council should appropriate $7,000 annually for five years to any company that would build and operate the bridge. A committee of five was appointed to meet with the council. The committee members were Charles W. BITTMAN, D. N. COOLEY, Julius K. GRAVES, William REBMAN, and George Wallace JONES. (10) Paying for the bridge remained a question for years. In 1886 Peter KLAUER suggested that since the city council had offered to cancel the taxes of the Dunleith and Dubuque Bridge Company if they planked the present bridge, that it should be willing to appropriate the same amount to a new bridge project. (11)

The location of the bridge was also debated. A committee of councilmen from East Dubuque met with the Dubuque City Council in 1881. A Dubuque council member read the following resolution: (12)

         We deem it essential to the development and prosperity of our city and county,
         as well as for the interest of East Dubuque and the county of Jo Daviess, in the
         state of Illinois, and the county of Grant, in the state of Wisconsin, and the
         adjacent country that a wagon bridge should be constructed across the
         Mississippi River from the city of East Dubuque to the city of Dubuque...

In January 1882 those who had incorporated the pile and pontoon bridge surrendered the authority granted to the company by the United States secretary of war. Those who were supporting a wagon bridge were notified. (13)

In 1886 estimates were made that the lack of the bridge had cost local merchants an estimated $50,000 during the winter and holidays of 1885. (14) In 1886 the Chicago, Burlington, and Northern Railroad Company offered to construct a railroad, wagon, and foot passenger bridge. The company did not seek city money for the project or the maintenance of the bridge, but asked that city grant a remission of its taxes for twenty-five years, build the approaches on the Dubuque side, and transfer the pontoon charter to them. (15) Oddly, the Illinois and Central had offered such a proposal in 1868 only to have the Illinois Legislature, according to Platt SMITH refuse to right to construct a toll bridge. (16) As early as 1874 bills had been written in the Iowa House allowing Iowa communities to unite with railroad or bridge companies in building or using bridges as railroad and wagon bridges. (17)

Three kinds of crossings were considered for the river: a pontoon bridge, planks on the existing railroad bridge or a railway transfer (18)

Originally a PONTOON BRIDGE was suggested and the DUBUQUE PONTOON BRIDGE COMPANY was organized.

The DUBUQUE HIGH BRIDGE COMPANY organized by Bernard J. O'Neill, president; John MacDonald, secretary; and A. Kammann, treasurer was formed in 1886. Bids for the construction of a bridge were advertised. A fixed bridge, built in place of a pontoon bridge, was the concept of Mr. C. L. Strobel, a consulting engineer from Chicago, who had been hired to design a pontoon bridge between Dubuque and East Dubuque. Strobel suggested a high bridge would eliminate the need to build a draw through which boats could pass. (19)

In 1886 the idea of a pontoon bridge was abandoned and a high bridge became very popular; this was after the city had passed an ordinance appropriating $25,000 for a pontoon bridge. (20) This contribution, however, was written so that the city was able to get that amount back from the private operators of the bridge around 1923. (21) citizens raised about $75,000 by subscription by the middle of October. In August, 1886, the construction of the high bridge was awarded to Horace E. Horton, of Rochester, Minnesota, at $122,994; his was the lowest bid by over $20,000 including the iron approach on the east side. (22)

Work on the bridge began on September 7, 1886. On March 23, 1887, the first shipment of iron for the high bridge arrived. (23) Almost immediately there was a rumor that the federal government would not approve construction. (24) Further investigation revealed that the government would not be able to stop construction because the bridge did not hinder navigation. Further, government engineers had approved of the plans submitted by the bridge company.

The bridge was to be completed by May 1, 1887. It was not however, until November 25, 1887 that teams began to cross the high bridge. The roadway was eighteen feet wide, with a foot path on each side.

Estimates were made that 500 floats would be involved in the opening day festivities. (25) On November 29, 1887 an immense procession passed through the streets and over the bridge. Two carriages containing bridge and city officials led the way. There were floats, banners, mottoes, bands and societies in line, all escorted by the GOVERNOR'S GREYS and accompanied by bands and drum corps. To commemorate the event, the bridge company had thousands of bronze medals cast. Every person in the crowd that day received one the medals.

In 1892 the bridge was lighted by the UNITED STATES ELECTRIC LIGHT AND POWER COMPANY with four lights placed 500 feet apart. (26) Concerns that the new bridge would conflict with the old high bridge were quickly discounted. It was felt that the new bridge would actually encourage traffic into Dubuque from an area not then being served. (27) Ironically in the same year, the company operating the bridge petitioned the city council to cancel the 1893 tax due to the city. The charter of the company stated the bridge would not be taxed any year it did not generate 8% interest on the capital invested. (28)

In 1894 the prospect of a new high bridge was being announced by Joseph A. RHOMBERG. See:EAGLE POINT BRIDGE

The Wagon Bridge replaced several FERRYBOATS that began service across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER in 1827, six years before the permanent settlement of Dubuque as a community. The bridge charter stated that In November 1894 a proposition was made by the city that the bridge company would turn the bridge over to the city for a return of 6% interest on the original cost of construction: $133,868.13 minus the city's contribution of $25,000. The city would have the option of buying the bridge at the end of ten years. This proposition, however, was 2% less than stated in the original charter. (29) There was also the provision that the city would not aid in the construction of another bridge until the Wagon Bridge was fully paid. (30) The bridge remained privately owned despite occasional interest in either the city or state to make it a free bridge.

Located on 4th Street near the DUBUQUE STAR BREWING COMPANY, the High Bridge saw a lot of traffic after the State of Iowa Prohibition Law was passed in 1916. Illinois did not comply with PROHIBITION until after the passage of the federal amendment in 1920. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald and the CENTER FOR DUBUQUE HISTORY.
By the 1940s, the bridge could not accommodate the estimated 300 automobiles crossing it daily. (31) A proposal had been made to reinforce the bridge at a cost of $260,000 but this had been rejected by the Dubuque Bridge Commission. The Commission had followed the advice of its consulting engineers Ash, Howard Needles & Tammen of Kansas City, Missouri who stated that a large amount of money should not be spent reinforcing the present bridge unless it could be made as strong as a new bridge constructed according to modern specifications. (32)

The Wagon Bridge was taken down five months after the completion of the JULIEN DUBUQUE BRIDGE. (33)

1887 High Bridge Commemorative token(Front). Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
(reverse). Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Souvenir spoon of the High Bridge.
Closeup of the spoon's bowl.
Souvenir plate showing the wagon and railroad bridges. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Aerial view of the wagon bridge and the railroad bridge.
Toll booth at the Wagon Bridge. Illustration by Norman Zepski
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
This soft metal tray is embossed with images of the Julien Hotel, Wagon and Railroad bridges, and the Elks building. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.



1. "Wagon Bridge Once Dubuque's Ambition," Telegraph-Herald, August 29, 1943, p. 23

2. "The Wagon Bridge," Dubuque Herald, Dec. 13, 1873, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ig9eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-18NAAAAIBAJ&pg=3046,7866885&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

3. Ibid.

4. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, Jan 9, 1873, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=TB9eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BWANAAAAIBAJ&pg=1484,5992209&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

5. "The Pontoon Rampant," Dubuque Herald, Jan. 9, 1874, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=HRxeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7V8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=3644,5508141&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

6. "Municipal," Dubuque Herald, January 9, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770109&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 22, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770722&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "The Ferry-Car," Dubuque Herald, April 21, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780421&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Squelched," Dubuque Herald, August 18, 1878, p. 3. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780818&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "The Pontoon Question," Dubuque Herald, Nov. 2, 1878, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ZsRCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=WKsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1538,761477&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

11. "The Wagon Bridge," Dubuque Daily Herald, Jan. 27, 1886, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=az9RAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JdMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2111,5447215&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

12. "Council Chatter," Dubuque Herald, Dec. 13, 1881, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=w5NCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LqsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3073,3117633&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

13. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 19, 1882, p. 4

14. "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 4, 1886, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=blBRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=89MMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2047,764191&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

15. "Mass Meeting Tonight," Dubuque Daily Herald, Jan. 7, 1886, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Wj9RAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JdMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2919,4688970&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

16. "Railroad and Bridge Matters: Rejoinder By Platt Smith," Dubuque Daily Herald, Feb. 6, 1868, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_tBCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hqsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2528,566537&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge+company&hl=en

17. "Telegraphic," Dubuque Herald, Feb. 15, 1874, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wBteAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7V8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=4158,1845673&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge+company&hl=en

18. "The High Bridge," Dubuque Daily Herald, Jan. 4, 1887, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-HpFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4040,1446724&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

19. "Yesterdays," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 21, 2004, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Yp1dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=zlwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3751,4576965&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

20. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical 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-21-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml (Number 21)

21. "Wagon Bridge Once..."

22. Oldt

23. Ibid.

24. "The Bridge Question," Dubuque Herald, Feb. 16, 1878, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=j6tCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RKsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2351,1381683&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge&hl=en

25. "A Grand Celebration," Dubuque Daily Herald, Nov. 1, 1887, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vXhFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=v7wMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2594,4357102&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge+opening&hl=en

26. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 24, 1892, p. 4

27. "Will Aid Dubuque," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 19, 1894, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18940519&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

28. "Postponed for Two Weeks," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 5, 1894, p. 4

29. "Dubuque High Bridge," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 27, 1894, p. 4

30. "No Powder Left," Dubuque Daily Herald, February 3, 1895, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18950203&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

31. Odegard, Laura, "Link," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 1, 1991, p. 10-11. Online. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dBBeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=B2ANAAAAIBAJ&pg=3378,370382&dq=dubuque+wagon+bridge+opening&hl=en

32. TH Media. "75 Years Ago: Bridge Plan Reaches Milestone," Telegraph Herald, January 14, 2016, p. 5A

33. Ibid.