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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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


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1875 map
LAKE PEOSTA. Lying between CITY ISLAND and the shore, Lake Peosta's "western slough" as early as 1850 was considered for its potential to the city. It was hoped that an inner steamboat channel could be created from EAGLE POINT, through RAFFERTY SLOUGH, past MOORE'S MILL and back into the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The three-mile length would bring river transportation closer to the city. It would also eliminate the levee at the foot of Jones Street. This could only be reached by SIDEWALKS constructed on timbers over the marshy areas. (1)

During the administration of Christian Anton VOELKER a resolution was presented to petition Congress for the lake area. (2) In December 1891 former mayor Robert W. STEWART was once again involved in efforts to obtain title to the lake bed. The issue had come before the city council when Stewart had been mayor. An suggestion was made to have Senator William Boyd ALLISON and Congressman David B. HENDERSON write a bill and guide it through Congress. Other matters made this impossible. Senator Allison asked Stewart to have the city prepare a sketch of the area and surrounding territory and attach it to a bill for him to present. (3)

The survey was completed in January 1892. Among the reasons the petition was presented was the feeling that by filling the lake bed more water would be diverted to the main channel. It was felt this would be considered a river improvement. The filled area was to be used for building sites for manufacturers. (4)

In April, 1892 when nothing had been done with the survey, several "prominent businessmen" in favor of the project circulated the following petition: (5)

             To the Directors of the Dubuque Board of Trade:
             We, the undersigned, most respectfully call your attention to what
             we consider to be a matter of great interest and importance to
             every citizen of Dubuque--the securing to the city, either for
             manufacturing of park purposes of the property known as Lake Peosta.
             The title to said property now remains with the United States 
             government. We therefore urge upon you are representatives of the
             business interests of our city, to take such action as will most
             speedily accomplish the object in view.
Commercial fishing nets at Lake Peosta in the late 19th or early twentieth century. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
In October 1894, the city council adopted a resolution empowering the mayor, Peter OLINGER, to appoint a committee. This group was to take the steps necessary to obtain a grant to the city from the federal government of Lake Peosta. On October 9, 1894 the mayor appointed three alderman to act with him as the chairperson. The Daily Herald noted that Joseph A. RHOMBERG owned the property around the lake and also claimed it. (6)

The possibility of creating a city park from the region was explored in 1900. A special committee was organized to explore the property rights of the city to the old bed of Lake Peosta and to the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. This committee found two separate acts of the Iowa General Assembly. The first approved on March 3, 1860 and the other on April 4, 1896 granted to the City of Dubuque all the beds of lakes, sloughs and ponds of water in Sections 17, 18 and 19 of Township 89 North which are east of the west meandered line of the west shore of Lake Peosta. The area of the bed of the lake with that of the ponds and sloughs contained in the grant by the state was more than 250 acres. The proposed park's western boundary was to begin on the south side of the foot of 12th Street and run 300 feet forth of the foot of 7th Avenue in Hams's Addition. Every cross street from 12th to 7th Avenue would intersect with the proposed park which would be just over 1.5 miles long. It was proposed that a deep channel between 50-100 feet wide would be maintained fro Eagle Point to an outlet on the main river above 8th Street. Material dredged from the river would be used to fill sloughs on the island. (7) In 1907 the idea of developing such a park was given swift rejection in a report on PARKS issued by eastern park expert Charles Mulford Robinson who was asked for his suggestions.

The Gantenbein property on Lake Peosta. Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

For Peg Wagner of Dubuque, however, the area was a childhood home of wonder and charm. Located on the eastern side of the railroad tracks, her family's property included the former home of her grandparents, her home, and a collection of out buildings.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

Access to the property, there was no road, was achieved by climbing over a hill from Garfield Street where their car was parked and then down a wooden ramp. Her father also built a series of wooden steps along the path at intervals to ease the walk over hazardous inclines.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

Isolated from other families by fields of willows, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Gantenbein and their children Peg and Chuck lived a life that included the joys of fishing in the summer from their boat dock and skating in the winter.

Peg, his father, and her brother. Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner
Barely visible in 2011, the arch beneath the roadway near the lock and dam was once the access to Lake Peosta from the river. The lake now lies beneath the parking lot visible in the picture.
Lake Peosta was a popular skating site. Peg's mother is the second from the right. Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

Peg's father had one rule,"If you were going to skate, you had to help shovel the snow off the ice." Lake Peosta was only several feet deep and anyone interested in using the quiet waters for water skiing in the summer were warned of the submerged stumps and metal barrels.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

High water in the spring was an annual occurrence. A flood wall was constructed around the family house, but often with little effect. Peg's mother would row her family from the house to the ramp to get to school or work. Peg related that when the basement flooded, her mother would stand on the bottom step with a fishnet to catch floating vegetables for dinner.

In 1956 the family's property was purchased by the city. Plans were underway to fill Lake Peosta to establish the first of the city's INDUSTRIAL PARKS.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

The Gantenbein home with all its furnishings was lifted from its foundation and moved north along the railroad tracks to the corner near the present Point Restaurant. The former site of the house was soon prepared for the construction of BARNSTEAD/THERMOLYNE.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

Several days later, it was pulled along Rhomberg Avenue to its current location.

Photo courtesy: Peg Wagner

The dredging of Lake Peosta was linked in 1953 to flood prevention. Estimates indicated that protecting the entire riverfront area would be about $1.8 million. A start on a "seawall," however, cold be made with Lake Peosta. In late September a huge dredge operating 24 hours daily began forcing 10,000 cubic yards of sand daily up from the river in the CITY ISLAND area and piping it to a location beyond the end of 12th Street. (8)

The industrial development of the Lake Peosta area was approved by voters in April, 1955. The focus was dredging a channel and using the material to fill in 180 acres on City Island to bring its elevation above flood stage. The dredging was expected to take fifteen months. While this was being done the city would start proceeding to clear the land by consulting those who lived in the area. Anyone living on land designated for industrial development would be given sixty days to leave. (9)

In 1961 the opening of the Lake Peosta Channel shoreline north of the E. 16th Street bridge for small boat dock space was approved by the Dubuque Dock Commission. An estimated 750 feet of shoreline beginning 400 feet north of the bridge was to be made available. This would allow approximately 75 boats to be accommodated. Space was leased on a year-to-year basis at the rate of $2.00 per foot. (10)

Use of the shoreline was to be on a temporary basis. When industry chose to locate in the area, the boaters had to move. The Commission said that those who used the space would be given first opportunity to lease space in the proposed new small boat harbor south of the E. 16th Street bridge on the city island side of the channel. (11)

Space for small boats was limited in Dubuque according to Commission members. There were also many violators who used up to three times the space they needed or paid rent. (12)



1. "Lake Peosta Dredging Due to Start Next July," Telegraph Herald, May 8, 1955, p. 21

2. "The Survey Completed," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 20, 1892, p. 4

3. "Selectmen in Session," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 8, 1891, p. 4.

4. "The Survey Completed..."

5. "The Lake Peosta Tract," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 15, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920415&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "To Acquire Lake Peosta," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 10, 1894, p. 4

7. "City Council," The Dubuque Herald, February 24, 1900, p. 7

8. "Chamber Pushes Flood Control," Telegraph Herald, February 11, 1953, p. 35

9. "Lake Peosta Dredging..."

10. Shively, Neil. "To Open Lake Peosta Channel to Boat Rental," Telegraph Herald, March 14, 1061, p. 1

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 4