"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
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. Many of the smaller streams in the vicinity of Dubuque were also favorite skating sites. A favorite activity of skaters on the river was to open their coats like sails and using the wind to push them along. Skaters were known to travel all the way to Galena or Bellevue. (1)

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.

1867 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
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.

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. (2)

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 commission then proceeded to revoke his license on the grounds that he had violated its conditions. (3)

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. (4) 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. (5) The rink proved profitable with 550 tickets being sold on January 3, 1897. (6) On January 19, 1897 a masquerade was held on the ice with music provided by the First Regiment Band. (7)

There were few accommodations for skaters. The high wooden fence around the Keckevoet rink provided some protection from cold winter winds, but provisions actually offering warmth did not appear until around 1909. These were not provided by the city; they were commercial. Keckevoet was a popular skating operator. On Sundays, both in the afternoon and evening, he provided skaters with music from an orchestra in an open bandstand located in the exact center of their rink. (8)

Shortly after the closing of the Keckevoet rink, a municipal skating rink was constructed in 1882 at Municipal Ballpark on East 4th Street.

In 1911 the recreation and playground commission maintained at least four and possibly five rinks in scattered parts of the community. The sites would be flooded as soon as cold weather remained constant. The largest was to be made at Comiskey field. Another large rink was located on unoccupied city property at South Locust and Railroad STREETS. A third site was RAFFERTY SLOUGH. People living in the western part of town would have a rink on Welbes Field on Pennsylvania Avenue. The fourth rink was planned for the corner of Dodge and Booth with a fifth on Glen Oak near West Third. (9)

Trainer skates. Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ykyguidiiyr/photos/
In 1912 the Dubuque City Council proposed a free skating rink in the Ice Harbor as there had been for the two previous years. (10) 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.
Skating at Allison-Henderson. Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ykyguidiiyr/photos/



1. "Five Skating Rinks Will be Established This Winter By the City Recreation Commission," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, November 26, 1933, p. 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. "Five Skating Rinks..."

9. Ibid.

10. "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