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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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The idea of a pontoon bridge in Dubuque was briefly considered.
PONTOON BRIDGE. Proposed crossing point between Dubuque and Illinois over the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The first organized effort to gain support for the bridge came during the term of Mayor Peaslee. Among those proposing a bridge were M. Tschirgi, Jr., an engineer, and Dr. J. P. Quigley who was first credited with the idea of a pontoon bridge. His support of the idea served to earn his the local nickname, "Pontoon Doc." (1)

On June 9, 1874 citizens interested in a pontoon bridge met in Dubuque. Among the resolutions passed was one to add the name of Dubuque to a bill already in Congress to construct such bridges at Clinton, Iowa and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. (2) Another proposal called for constructing a passageway along both sides of the railroad tracks. The City of Dubuque was asked to be financially responsible for all accidents that might occur. This plan was rejected. Another plan called for the building of railway carriages to transport wagons and merchandise. A group of businessmen traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to see such a bridge in use, but the plan was turned down as unsatisfactory.

With the rejection of other concepts, Quigley's pontoon bridge ideas gained increasing acceptance. The bridge to be located one hundred feet south of the railroad bridge was expected to cost $35,000 and cost four dollars daily to operate. When finished the bridge was expected to be 1600 feet long and have a draw, the pontoon part, of 600 feet. (3) Quigley's plan called for approaches to the bridge to be built on both sides of the main channel. The span between these approaches would be small, and the main channel was to be spanned by the pontoon, a large flat-bottomed barge. One end of the barge would be permanently tied to a pier. The other end would be free to swing out-of-the-way to allow boats and rafts to pass. Swinging the barge back into place would be accomplished with an engine and cable.

Soundings were made across the river between the ferry landings on August 6, 1874. (4) It was decided that the river bed at this location was better than near the railroad bridge. The mean depth of water was 10 feet 3 inches. No approaches would be needed. If the pontoon bridge were constructed near the railroad bridge, approaches costing from six thousand to eight thousand dollars would be needed. The pontoon section had been revised to 550 feet, wide enough for the largest log rafts. (5)

The Dubuque Pontoon Bridge Company was organized with B. J. O'Neill as president and John McDonald, then manager of the Tillinghast Company chosen secretary. The city gave the company $25,000 and freedom of taxation until the company stock earned eight percent interest. The estimated cost of the project was expected to be $100,000. (6) The City of Dunleith on August 8th formally approved of the project by the "Pile and Pontoon Bridge Company" with the board of supervisors of Jo Daviess County granting a right-of-way. (7)

Proposed locations for the pontoon bridge, including one site north of the Third Street extension, were submitted to the secretary of war in Washington, D.C. The first two possible locations were rejected at this level. This was explained in a lengthy letter republished in the Dubuque Herald. (8) Engineers in Washington felt that a pontoon bridge was not needed when a wagon bridge could be attached to the railroad bridge. (9) Frustrated by the delay, local proponents of the bridge asked government engineers to suggest a point within the city limits that would be satisfactory. Upon completion of a complete survey of the river, a point was chosen for the western end of the bridge at North First Street. The eastern terminus was located in Grant County, Wisconsin, at a point approximately one and one-eighth miles north of the border of Illinois and Wisconsin.

On April 5, 1876 the chief of engineers in Washington, D.C. sent a letter to M. Tschirgi, Jr., the chief engineer of the Dubuque Pontoon Bridge Company, announcing approval of a site for the bridge (EAGLE POINT) suggested by Tschirgi on December 13, 1875. (10)

The announcement that the federal government had finally agreed to a site for the bridge reawakened fundraising efforts in the city. Joseph A. RHOMBERG and Dr. Quigley visited the Fifth Ward on April 20, 1876 seeking funds with the knowledge that $11,000 had already been raised. Circulars printed when the plan was to locate the bridge at Dunleith were still used to show the advantages of having a pontoon bridge across the Mississippi. (11)

In 1885 businessmen in East Dubuque formed a company to build a pontoon bridge. They had been opposed to the earlier location that left the eastern approach to the bridge outside their city and proposed a location approximately 225 feet south of the present railroad bridge. The location was satisfactory to residents of Dubuque, and the plan was submitted and approved by the secretary of war who issued a charter to the East Dubuque company.

The winter of 1885-1886 was one in which the ice on the Mississippi was too thin to cross, but too thick for FERRYBOATS. With losses estimated at $75,000, Dubuque merchants became increasingly determined to have a permanent bridge.

Discussions between businessmen in Dubuque and East Dubuque led to the East Dubuque charter and franchise being transferred to the Dubuque Pontoon Company for the pledge of $50,000 that a bridge would be constructed. A sale of stock led to $35,000 being raised. When the Dubuque City Council ignored a request to purchase $25,000 in stock, the additional money came from an additional ten-day subscription. Active in this process were A. J. Parker and John Peter ELLWANGER.

With the raising of over $50,000, the site for the bridge was chosen. The estimated cost of constructing the bridge by then had risen to $80,000 including the pontoon section.

C. L. Strobel, hired from Chicago, Illinois, as a consulting engineer, suggested after viewing the area that the bridge should be converted into a "high bridge" without a pontoon. It was thought impossible to raise the necessary financing, but H. E. Horton, who eventually won the construction contract, proposed that such a bridge could be erected for an estimated $120,000. A meeting of the stockholders on August 9, 1886, led to the decision to stop plans for a pontoon bridge in favor of the high bridge concept. See: DUBUQUE WAGON BRIDGE. (Photo Courtesy: http://www.dubuquepostcards.com)




1. "Interesting Story is Connected with City's High Bridge," Telegraph Herald, April 15, 1923, p. 15. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=QQJIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=88sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1785,2918649&dq=railroad+bridge+dubuque&hl=en

2. "The Pontoon Bridge Meeting," Dubuque Herald, June 10, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740610&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Interesting Story..."

4. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-21-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

5. "The Pontoon," Dubuque Herald, August 7, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740807&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 6, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740806&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Dunleith and the Pontoon," Dubuque Herald, August 11, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "The Pontoon," Dubuque Herald, Novembert 18, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751118&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "The Pontoon in Doubt," Dubuque Herald, June 19, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18750619&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "The Pontoon to be at Eagle Point," Dubuque Herald, April 11, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760411&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "The Pontoon," Dubuque Herald, April 20, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760420&printsec=frontpage&hl=en