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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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Ice skating on the Ice Harbor. Photo courtesy" Jim Massey
Ice skating. Photo courtesy" Jim Massey
ICE SKATING. Ice skating has been a popular winter activity for many years in Dubuque. Before skating rinks were constructed, parties of skaters organized at the ICE HARBOR and then skated across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER to Fentress Lake. Opening their coats to act like sails, the skaters found the eastern journey with the wind easier than returning. If the wind was strong, they often took off their skates and hiked across the river.

On January 29, 1859 skaters made a trip by frozen river from Dubuque to Galena in one hour and fourteen minutes. Other trips by frozen river included dashes from the Ice Harbor to CATFISH CREEK where the creek was followed to ROCKDALE. It was a long hike home. Some fearless types skated to Bellevue and then took the railroad home.

Dubuque Herald, Jan. 1, 1863. Photo courtesy: Diane Harris
Dubuque had a skating club in 1863. The ice was so firm that in late December of that year, mail was carried across the river on horse and sleigh without problem.

A skating rink was constructed in 1882 at Municipal Ballpark located on East 4th Street.

Skating on the river generally ended with the development of a commercial rink at the Ice Harbor. As soon as the ice was solid, a high wooden fence on the ice enclosed an area for skating. On Sundays a band played appropriate music from an open bandshell in the middle of the rink. The business was first operated by the Bowens and then John and Charles Keckevoet.

In 1912 the Dubuque City Council proposed a free skating rink in the Ice Harbor. Other rinks were established at the Municipal Athletic Field, Comiskey Park and at the West Third Street water reservoir on its cement roof. By 1933 other rinks were opened at Rafferty's Field on South Locust, Pennsylvania Avenue, and at Dodge and Booth STREETS. Since then skaters have found winter fun at FLORA PARK and ALLISON-HENDERSON PARK.

A argument between two individuals offering skating on the Ice Harbor due to legal action in 1895. This was avoided in 1896 when the city council awarded the right to operate a rink to Ernest Bohn whose bid of $150 was the highest. (1)



1. "City Council, Dubuque Daily Herald, November 1, 1896, p. 8

Kruse, Len. "Ice Skating in the Good Old Days," My Old Dubuque, Center for Dubuque History, Loras College, 2000 p. 313-315

Zepeski Norman. Interview-1989