"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.
In 1920 a huge elm-planting ceremony was held along Grandview Avenue when both sides of the street were planted with trees as a memorial to former President Theodore Roosevelt who died in 1919. Discussion of planting an elm tree for each Dubuque soldier who died in WORLD WAR I were never carried out. Estimates of the number of elms once growing in Dubuque ranged from as few as 10,000 to as many as 80,000. In 1960 a special census counted 4,617 growing along the city's STREETS; many were planted during the last quarter of the 19th century. (1) In 1961 the Telegraph Herald reported that about 5,000 of the 6,000 city-owned shade trees were elms and that at least as many could be found on private property. Dubuque had a number of outstanding examples of the tree. A 150-year old elm stood in the backyard of a property at 215 Fremont. The tree measured six-feet in diameter and had a branch-spread of 30-feet. A one-hundred foot high elm, once believed to be the largest in Iowa, stood at 1940 Coates.
Dutch Elm Disease reached the United States in 1930 according to Dr. J. C. Carter of the Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois. (2) The European Bark Beetle which carried the disease came into the country on a shipment of elm logs from Europe. (3) The European beetle and its cousin the American Bark Beetle became the only known carriers of the disease. The initial signs of the Dutch elm disease was yellowing and curling of the leaves. The only recourse was to remove the tree and burn it. (4)
Dubuque officials began a program of prevention in the 1940s. (5) Whenever elm trees were pruned, the dead branches were burned. Dead wood was the only place the beetle laid its eggs. An estimated $10,000 was spent annually in an effort to prevent the disease from starting in the city. (5) Spraying with DDT had been started in 1958 along with trimming and burning diseased branches.(4) Although these practices were continued, the blight spread and the use of DDT ended after it was labeled a threat to the environment. In March 1960 local authorities announced that Dutch elm would strike Dubuque in June or July. The disease, however, was not found in Dubuque until August 1961, when the first evidence of the disease was discovered in a tree at 75 Hill Street.
In 1962 the Dubuque Park Department planned to spray selected elm trees with DDT to see if it would be effective in controlling the disease. Crews were also trimming dead branches in an estimated 5,000 elms on public property between sidewalks and city streets. (5) Diseased trees on private property had to be cut down and burned within fifteen days at the owner's expense according to a city ordinance. (6) Public protests of again using DDT included accusations that it damaged cars. The chemical was also considered harmful to birds and flowers. (7)
In 1964 the Park Department began using Bidrin, a pesticide advertised as a preventive for the disease. In use it was discovered that the chemical did no more than slow the disease. Other chemicals were also tried and discontinued. One idea never tried was the importation of French wasps that would eat the beetles causing the disease.
When the Dutch elm disease reached its peak in 1968, 85 percent of Dubuque's trees were elms. The vast numbers of dying trees and the speed with which the disease spread soon made it apparent that the containment effort was futile. The battle to save the elms cost the citizens of Dubuque over $750,000.
The following three pictures were taken on Clarke Drive about a mile east of the Clarke Campus and a half mile north of the Loras campus. The two trees pictured were the last parkway trees on the street as of 1970. The winter scene was taken on January 27. The spring shot was taken on May 14, showing both trees in bloom. The final shot was taken on September 3. By then they were not so healthy. The tree in the foreground was infected in June and had died. Its neighbor was well on the way. Both trees were removed on October 20.
Today the city, in planting trees, avoids concentrating an area with one kind of tree to avoid a repeat of similar destruction.
1. "Due Here This Summer, Plant Expert Reports," Telegraph Herald, March 27, 1960, p. 1
5. "Trees at Golf Course and 9th, Bluff Removed," Telegraph Herald, July 19, 1962, p. 1
7. "Test Spray for Elm Trees Planned," Telegraph Herald, February 15, 1962, p. 1
8. "Chronology," Telegraph Herald, December 31, 1967, p. 19