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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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KIMBEL, George

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George Kimbel at Eagle Point Park with his back to the remnants of Kimbel Park submerged by the lock and dam. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
KIMBEL, George. (Bellevue, IA, 1876--Dubuque, IA, February 5, 1966) A son of Captain Richard KIMBEL, George grew up in a family focused on business. George was only fifteen when he began operating his father's horse-powered ferry between Bellevue and Blanding's Landing near Galena. Hundreds of people needed transportation to that city to witness the unveiling of the statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. On his first day he had to alternate using two teams of horses to power the ferry to make seventy-five trips to Galena and back. His day began at 3:00 a.m. and ended at 4 a.m. the following day. (1)

The Kimbel family moved from Bellevue to Dubuque in 1890. Around 1896, after operating a successful ferry business, Richard Kimbel purchased land in Wisconsin and began establishing a recreation center. Among the first buildings constructed was a thirteen-room house for his growing family (Kimbel eventually fathered twenty-three children by four wives), a dance hall, and a tavern/restaurant. At the age of five, each of the Kimbel children was given a job. The boys were taught at an early age to pilot the family ferry to bring visitors to KIMBEL PARK and tend bar. The girls tended the younger children, cooked at the restaurant, and cleaned the family's house. George was piloting the ferry "Eagle Point" at 11:00 a.m. the day he was to be married at 2:00 p.m. (2)

George's piloting experience included operating the "Line Hanson" which was originally used for towing barges of clam shells for the BUTTON INDUSTRY in Dubuque. Later it was renovated into a ferryboat. George also piloted the "Potosi," a boat used by the Potosi Brewing Company for transporting beer and residents of Potosi and Cassville to Dubuque. On June 12, 1902, Kimbel was about ready to leave the dock in Dubuque with the "Potosi" jammed with shoppers heading home when the steam "Ravenna" pushing a barge passed by. Near the present site of the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS, a tornado hit the "Ravena" flipping it over. The "Potosi" arrived minutes later to find seventeen survivors standing on the hull of the sunken boat and three people clinging to the side. (3)

Kimbel, sitting on the bumper, trained new motormen. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
When piloting jobs grew scarce around 1917, Kimbel worked for the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD. By 1946, he had risen to the position of general passenger agent. (4) He later served as a motorman for the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY. He returned to the river as the captain of the S. S. Potosi, a stern-wheeler, which carried freight, passengers and teams from Dubuque to Potosi on weekdays and excursions on Sundays. Schedules were loose with time to pick up passengers at cabins along the way and hauling groceries. (5)

Kimbel Park was sold to Christian Anton VOELKER two years after the death of Capt. Richard Kimbel. Capt. George Kimbel continued taking party goers to the park which remained a recreation center. Kimbel also piloted the "J. S." steamer and the "St. Paul" which were owned by the Streckfus Lines of St. Louis. He also filled in for his brother Albert L. KIMBEL on the side-wheeler "Ruth" operated by the DUBUQUE SAND & GRAVEL COMPANY INC. as well as the stern-wheeler "Iris", "Harriet," and "Aquila" owned by the MOLO SAND AND GRAVEL COMPANY. He also made many trial runs in boats manufactured by the DUBUQUE BOAT AND BOILER WORKS. (6)




1. Kruse, Len. "Captain George A. Kimbel," Julien's Journal, August 1995, p. 55

2. Ibid.

3. Hinkley, Bob. "Mississippi Captain Recalls Excitement on the River," Telegraph Herald, February 27, 1963, p. 9

4. "Railroad Promotes Former Dubuquer," Telegraph-Herald, August 3, 1949, p. 2

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

6. Kruse