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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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HORSE FERRY. A team boat was a ferry powered by horses or mules walking on a treadmill. The river transportation was popular in the U.S. between 1810 – 1850s. (1)

The first documented horse-powered boat in the United States was built on the Delaware River in 1791 by John Fitch. One design for the team boat had horses on a treadwheel that turned the paddle wheels. Another style had horses tied to a horse mill-like contraption walking around in a circle. The third design had horses walking straight ahead on a kind of treadmill. (2)

Along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, the man-power flatboat gave way to the horse ferry. (3) James FANNING and his brother Timothy FANNING operated the first horse ferry between Dubuque and Boat Yard Hollow around 1838. (4) In 1879 a Mr. Rilling of Bellevue traded the Eagle Point Ferry for a horse ferry operated in Guttenberg. This boat was planned to be placed in operation at EAGLE POINT. It was stated in the newspaper report that 'it was believed one man could operate the boat and make enough from its profits to buy his beer provided he was economical in that respect.' (5) George Kimbel, one of the sons of Richard KIMBEL operated a horse ferry between Bellevue, Iowa and Blanding, Wisconsin in 1890 when he was fourteen. (6)



1. "Boats With Horse Power," Ripley's Believe It or Not," Online: http://www.ripleys.com/weird-news/horse-ferry/

2. Ibid.

3. "Bruce Mahan, Renowned Lecturer, Delights Large Audience With His Address on the Early History of Dubuque and State of Iowa," Telegraph Herald, April 25, 1926, p. 14

4. "Methodism in the New World," Dubuque Sunday Herald, May 9, 1897, p. 10

5. "River News," Daily Herald, April 23, 1879, p. 4

6. "Old Timer Recalls His Days on the River and Railroad Here," Telegraph Herald, August 6, 1950, p. 2