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


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Plank roads offered serious challenges to transportation. Photo courtesy: Iowa Department of Transportation
PLANK ROAD. Unique form of road construction with timbers and planks first used in the United States in the 1840s. (1) In 1851 the city council considered building a plank road from Bluff Street to the western edge of the city. (2) In September, 1851 the Dubuque and Sageville Plank Road Company, whose officers included Jesse P. FARLEY, Platt SMITH, L. Maloney, H. Thompson, and J. J. Dyer, began construction of a road between Dubuque and Sageville along the present route of Central Avenue north of Diagonal Street. (3) Thick oak "stringers" were placed length-wise. Planks eight feet long and three inches were laid across the stringers. (3) The cost was $3,175 per mile. (4)

The company was granted permission on September 15, 1853, to begin collecting tolls. (3)

    a two-horse vehicle-------------------------10 cents
    a four-horse vehicle------------------------15 cents
    vehicles drawn by one or two-yoke oxen------10 cents
    each additional yoke------------------------ 5 cents
    man and horse------------------------------- 5 cents
    every lead or loose horse, mule, or jackass- 2 1/2 cents
    horned cattle, sheep and hogs, per score--- 20 cents

The tolls allowed persons to pass over the road and return the same or next day. The tolls remained in effect for the twenty-two years the road was in existence. (5)

On August 8, 1854, a committee was appointed to negotiate with the company for the purchase of the road within the city for $2063.10. (6) A deed to that part of the plank road within the city was obtained by council in November, 1854. (7) Various repairs to the road were made until April 1, 1875, when a resolution was passed to tear up the planks, by then considered an obsolete form of road construction. (8)

A Dubuque to Maquoketa plank road was projected in 1851, but failed to progress. It was the original intention to lay the planks as far as Table Mound before winter set in. (9)

In 1852 the capital in the Plank Road Company was raised from $8,000 to $25,000, but progress on the road continued to slow and the company failed to pay dividends. (10)

In July 1912 during excavations for a sanitary sewer along Couler (Central) Avenue, sections of the old plank road were found buried at a depth of 3-5 feet. Despite the years, the wood was still in excellent condition. (11)



1. "Plank Road," Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plank_road

2. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-10-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

3. Klein, Robert F. Dubuque: Frontier River City. Research Center for Dubuque Area History, Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, 1984, p. 123

4. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque: Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History, Loras College, 2000, p. 123

5. Klein

6. Ibid.

7. Oldt, Franklin T. and Patrick J. Quigley. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, p. 104

8. Klein

9. Oldt, p. 93

10. Ibid., p. 96

11. Kruse, p. 124