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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.

By the late 1800s, ice skating was a popular activity at the ICE HARBOR. A circular wooden fence surrounded the designated area on the western half of the harbor. When there were no bids for a skating rink in the harbor, the FISCHER ICE COMPANY agreed to clean off the skating area after every snow. (1)

Such cooperation was not always the case. In December 1895 Mr. Keckevoet and Mr. Bohn each wanted to have a skating rink on the harbor. When they disagreed as to how much each should have, a committee decided that each should occupy half the space. Keckevoet ignored the decision and fenced in a much larger area. The mayor and council then got involved and served him with a notice to move the fence to the committee's position in five hours or the fence would be removed. Keckevoet and his attorney then obtained an injunction. Angered, the mayor and harbor commissioned then proceeded to revoke his license on the grounds that he had violated its conditions. (2) On December 8, 1895 Mayor Olinger sidestepped the matter by obtaining permission to flood the old baseball field at Jackson and Sanford to offer free skating to the citizens. Advantages cited included the fact that people did not need to cross railroad tracks or fear the ice cracking and plunging into the harbor. (3) In 1896 the city council averted the problem completely by awarding the right to operate a rink on the Ice Harbor to Mr. Bohn whose bid of $150 was the highest. (4) The rink proved profitable with 550 tickets being sold on January 3, 1897. (5) On January 19, 1897 a masquerade was held on the ice with music provided by the First Regiment Band. (6)

In 1912 the Dubuque City Council proposed a free skating rink in the Ice Harbor as there had been for the two previous years. (7) 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.


Source: 1. “Will Clean Off Ice in the Harbor,” Telegraph Herald, Dec. 22, 1909, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mR9CAAAAIBAJ&sjid=a6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3560,5732406&dq=ice+harbor+dubuque&hl=en

2. "The City on Top," Dubuque Herald, December 1, 1895, p. 8

3. "A Free Ice Rink," Dubuque Herald, December 8, 1895, p. 8

4. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, November 3, 1896, p. 8

5. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 12, 1897, p. 5

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 18, 1897, p. 5

7. "Council Session Was Busy One," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, November 8, 1912, p. 3

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