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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

KIMBEL, Richard

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Family History: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=museum_quilts&id=I3313

Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut
The grave of Richard Kimbel's father. Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut.
KIMBEL, Richard. (Saxony, Germany, May 20, 1840--Kimbel Park, WI, June 18, 1910). Richard grandfather, Johann Valentin Kumpel, was born in Wernshausen, Samein, Thuringer (Germany) on December 30, 1759. His son, Richard's father, George, was born on November 5, 1796 and changed the spelling of his last name to Kuempel. After arriving in the United States in the early 1880s, the name had again been changed to Kuembel. The great grandsons kept up the tradition and changed the spelling of their last name to Kimbel. (1)
Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut

The family first settled in Galena, Illinois where it is assumed Kimbel first learned the ferrying trade along the Galena River. At the age of fourteen following the death of his mother, Richard left home to work aboard boats traveling the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. (2) At a very early age, Richard started a delivery service in town using horses and wagons. He also married his first wife, Anna Watry, and began his family. (3) The 1879 History of Jackson County, Iowa listed him as a livery and feed stable operator, a proprietor of a river ferry and a dealer in fine stock. He operated the only dray in the community. Although elected constable, he did not accept the position. He was listed as a contractor of the river road and distributed the ties from Gordon's Ferry to Sabula. (4) While living in Bellevue, Kimbel owned 220 acres in Illinois.

Kimbel's "Line Hanson" ferry. Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut
Kimbel's "Eagle Point" ferry.
Moving to Dubuque around 1886, Kimbel operated the last HORSE FERRY in this part of the Mississippi using a team of two horses to turn a treadmill. Although the boat could not be operated in reverse, careful handling could slow one horse allowing the boat to be gradually turned. He later purchased the steamer "Eagle Point" and used it to transport goods and people between Dubuque and Dunleith (later East Dubuque), Illinois. For several years after the "Eagle Point" was no longer in operation, he also operated two tow boats. (5) In 1898 Kimbel petitioned the city council for $400.00 to assist him in operating the Eagle Point ferry. (6)

Kimbel purchased land north of the present EAGLE POINT PARK and across the river in Wisconsin. Owned by Henry and Josepha Vogt, the ten-acre site was located at the convergence of Fairplay and Kieler roads. (7) Once the owner, he began the construction of a dock, a building for his business, a 13-room home for his family, a large dance hall and a saloon that offered food. (8) On Wednesday, weekends, and holidays free fish was served to bar patrons with their order. The oldest child, Adolph, was nineteen at the time and helped establish the business after Richard purchased his first steamboat. (9)

Richard's first wife died and he remarried, Catherine Weigand. (10) Some of the older children worked in the dance hall and tavern. Younger children as early as five-years-of-age were assigned jobs. Boys worked on the boats by day and ran the tavern at night. (11) All the boys learned how to pilot boats at an early age and did not stay around long after they were able to find work elsewhere. The girls kept up the family house, cared for the younger children, and cooked in the tavern at night. Kimbel's steamboat business increased so fast he purchased a second boat.

As KIMBEL PARK developed, Richard Kimbel began referring to the site as "Kimbel Island." (12) It featured many free attractions including two white diving horses, hypnotists, a band shell, bowling alley, and dances. Couples paid five cents per dance, the same price charged for a 20-ounce mug of beer or the fare from EAGLE POINT to the "island." (13) The park had a cell-like structure in which intoxicated people were placed temporarily to regain their senses. (14)

Kimbel had seventeen children by his first two wives. The third wife, Francis Mayr, died in 1895. Married four times and outliving all but his fourth wife, Josephine Bischoff, Kimbel was the father of twenty-three children. (15) He received a personal letter and gift of $100 from the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to recognize the birth of his 23rd child. (16) In 1902 upon the birth of his fourth grand-daughter, the Bellevue Leader reported:

              Adolph Kimbel is feeling more than proud 
              today. He is the father of twin girl babies. 
              A day or two later Mrs. George Fengler presented 
              her husband with twin girl babies also; and now 
              Capt. Kimbel, who is father of Adolph and Mrs. 
              Fengler, says he doesn't care whether the ferry
              boat runs or not next summer. He is the grandpa
              of four girls. (17)

The success of the Park and his ferrying activities made Kimbel a very rich man. He added to his wealth by constructing government dams and hauling cut wood on his barges. He partnered with dredge boat inventor, Mr. Hinman, of Bellevue in a clam-harvesting venture. (18) The 1902 opening of the DUBUQUE-WISCONSIN BRIDGE opened the accessibility to the park, but eliminated the need to use his ferryboat. To attract new visitors, Kimbel renovated his business adding bowling alleys, club house and dining hall. (19)

PROHIBITION proved more of an obstacle than all the others combined. Led by Dubuque Archbishop John J. KEANE, the temperance movement achieved a major success in 1907. Tavern owners and the Law and Order League signed an agreement closing all taverns in Dubuque County on Sunday. This seemed a bonanza initially for Kimbel Park. Thirsty Dubuque County residents crowded the park. Where once the attractions of nature had held on uneasy equilibrium with the consumption of beer, the consumption of alcohol now reigned supreme. According to the Telegraph Herald, those who arrived late had to wait up to fifteen minutes outside the barroom and ten minutes at the bar before getting served. When their beer arrived they only got a 'suit' meaning seven-eights was foam. 'Vicious fights marked the course of the day.' Encouraged by their success in Dubuque County, temperance leaders insisted that Grant County officials close bars on Sunday. The officials agreed, and the management of Kimbel Park complied. (20)

The creation of Eagle Point Park, UNION PARK, and the ability to travel outside of Dubuque across the DUBUQUE HIGH BRIDGE proved too much competition to keep Kimbel Park in operation. Two years after Kimbel's death, the park was sold. Later the land was purchased by the federal government prior to the construction of the ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM. (21)

Family burial site in Bellevue. Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut
Tombstone of Richard Kimbel. Photo courtesy: Lyn Klavitter Jungblut
Kimbel's death was attributed to asthma and heart failure. (22) Other accounts linked his death to Bright's disease. (23) His body was brought to Bellevue on the steamer "Potosi" with internment in the north cemetery. (24)

See: Albert L. KIMBEL, Roy KIMBEL, Adolph KIMBEL, George KIMBEL



1. Jungblut, Lyn. Five-Generation Ancestry Chart and "Capt. Richard Adam Kimbel" history

2. "Captain Kimbel, Pioneer River Man," Telegraph Herald, July 19, 1916

3. Jungblut

4. The History of Jackson County, Iowa, Chicago, Western Historical Company, 1879, p. 667

5. "Captain Kimbel..."

6. "City Council," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 13, 1898, p. 2

7. Day, Mike. "The Lost 'Island' " Telegraph Herald, September 3, 2017, p. 1A

8. Liddle, Olive Stewart, "Captain (Grandpa) Richard Adam Kimbel" unpublished family history

9. Ibid.

10. "Capt. Kimbel No More," The Bellevue Herald, June 23, 1910, p. 1A

11. Liddle

12. Ibid.

13. Tigges, John. "Richard Kimbel's Park Big Draw in the Late 1890s," Telegraph Herald, July 19, 2005, p. 1

14. "Action Line," Telegraph Herald, March 21, 1977

15. "Capt. Kimbel No More..."

16. Dahlinger, Mark, "Shoot-Em-Up Shell Games in the Mid-Mississippi,"

17. "Adolph Kimbel Proud Father," Bellevue Leader, February 27, 1902 Online: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=museum_quilts&id=I3902

18. Day

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Day

22. "Captain R. Kimbel Dead," The Bellevue Herald, June 21, 1910, p. 1

23. "Captain Kimbel, Pioneer River Man,"

24. Dahlinger

A special appreciation goes to Nelson Klavitter and Lyn Klavitter Jungblut for sharing their family history and pictures.