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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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Photo courtesy: Reimaging the South Port of Dubuque
SOUTH PORT. Bordered by East First Street to the north, Highway 151 on the west, a short distance south of the JULIEN DUBUQUE BRIDGE, and the filled-in area extending to the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, "South Port" has been a primary site for change--business and environmental. (1)

Dubuque's South Port since the 1870s was a maze of roadways, railroad right-of-ways and businesses. Carr and Austin planing mills supplied lumber yards north of the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD roundhouse. The RYAN PACKING COMPANY was located between Water and Levee STREETS near Jones. A coal yard, perhaps used by the railroad roundhouse and steamers moored at the levee, was located between Levee (now Terminal Street) and Water streets. Avenues were raised to lift them above the sloughs which were gradually filled. (2) A public levee and wharf ran parallel to Levee Street.

On February 12, 1874 William E. WELLINGTON, representing the DIAMOND JO LINE, met with the mayor, a number of councilmen, and several businessmen to discuss conditions under which the firm's headquarters would be moved to Dubuque. (3) There were concessions made to the company from the city government to encourage the relocation. These concessions included: (4)

             allowing a wharf boat in front of the lower levee where
                    it is paved and north of any wharf boat that could
                    later be placed along the levee for a term of five
             use of a portion of the lower levee not exceeding 150
                    feet front for a coal yard,
             use of 500 feet front of the outer levee at the foot of 
                    Third Street and running north for a boatyard,
             exempt from wharfage (taxes) all boats, barges, and
                    vessels of every kind owned by the company so long
                    as the company complies with the terms of the
                    contract and maintains its headquarters in the city
                    for a period of ten years

In 1876 this contract between the company and the city came under review. The committee on harbors found that the company had not moved the boatyard, general office, and repair and construction shops to Dubuque within four months of the signing of the contract and that the wharf boat of the company had not been kept open at nights and on Sundays for the use of the public to pass over to steamers of any other line. For these reasons, the council rescinded the contract. (5)

In 1878 the Diamond Jo Company spent about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and located permanently at EAGLE POINT where the DIAMOND JO BOATYARD was established. Peace between the City and company occurred in 1892 when the City granted the Diamond Jo Line the right to occupy and use a part of the public levee at the foot of Jones Street. (6)

On October 13, 1926, W. W. Morse, vice president and general manager of the Upper Mississippi Barge Line headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, met with members of the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce. Morse explained that shippers in Minneapolis and St. Paul were interested in river traffic. Between 1920 and 1926, the cost of rail car lot shipments had increased as much as 200 percent. The Minneapolis businessmen believed the use of the river would free the area from the freight rates which were handicapping agriculture, manufacturing and business. (7)

Morse suggested that Dubuque was the logical transfer point for shipments going to and from Chicago and the Twin Cities. A great amount of rail and water traffic for shippers from the area west of Dubuque would be routed by way of the city. The problem for Dubuque was that the government required a satisfactory terminal. Dubuque had no dock or loading ramp for barges. Problems at the levee made unloading difficult. (8)

On October 14, 1926, the Dubuque City Council took official action authorizing a special city election on the the day of the general election that year, November 2, on the following question:

                  Shall the city council of the City of Dubuque
                  be authorized to create a department to be known
                  as the department of public docks?

After approval of the question by the residents (6,732 to 2,970), the city council authorized representatives of the city to accompany representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Dubuque Shippers' Association and the press of the city on a trip of the lower Mississippi River to inspect terminals and barge line activities in St. Louis and New Orleans. This tour began on October 16, 1926. The members of the touring committee found various terminals along the river busy with commerce. They were also told that population growth in the thousands could be expected for a city located at a terminal. (9)

Based on the tour and election, conditions were studied and it was decided to form a corporation to construct and operate a barge line on the upper MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Minneapolis contributed $72,000, St. Paul $48,000, Dubuque $5,000 with other cities along the river contributing various amounts. Finally a contract was written with the federal government's Inland Waterways Corporation. (10)

The city council named John A. KERPER and P.S. Fawkes, two of the people who had been involved in the tour, and Louis H. BREDE, a former city commissioner, to the first dock commission. This commission determined the kind of terminal to be erected and directed the work in South Port to completion. C.J. Hoffman and L.E. Moore were the first terminal superintendent and chief clerk respectively. (11)

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The FEDERAL BARGE LINE began service between St. Louis and Minneapolis in 1927 at the end of Jones Street. When the terminal was completed between two and six barges could be unloaded at one time. Two tow motors, hauling from one to five five of the 30 two-ton loading and unloading trucks were used for the lighter loads. Heavier freight was moved by an eighteen-ton crane and a specially designed runway south of the terminal. (12)

Around 1938 the Dock Board, with financial aid from the Works Progress Administration, constructed a trestle for freight cars to reach the docks of the Municipal Barge Lines Terminal. (13)

The physical appearance of South Port changed dramatically. The JULIEN DUBUQUE BRIDGE opened on August 31, 1943. The second change came as the result of the organization of the MOLO OIL COMPANY as an authorized dealer of the Sinclair Refining Company in January 1928. As early as 1952 Sinclair fuel tanks were constructed in South Port. In 1958 the Dock Board announced construction south of the Julien Dubuque Bridge of an asphalt marine terminal of eight large new storage tanks surrounded by a concrete floodwall. (14) There was also a boat landing ramp at the foot of East First Street. (15)

Former office of the Diamond Jo Line.
Marker indicating the river crest in 1965.
The last reminder of the Diamond Jo Line was added to the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES in 1977. Constructed in 1885, the building had been the main office of the steamer line but became the operations office for INLAND MOLASSES COMPANY. The southeast corner of the building contains a marker indicating the height of the flood on April 26, 1965. (16)

In December 2015 the city council hired Shive Hattery Inc. to help them develop a plan for redevelopment of the South Port. Ideas from residents, property owners, and a real estate firm included: a new marina; a combination of waterfront condos, apartments, and retail offices; a 120-room waterfront hotel; and a boardwalk and waterfront plaza. (17)

During the 2011-2012 academic year, The University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning partnered with the City of Dubuque through the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC). IISC worked to improve sustainability in towns, cities, and counties in Iowa faced with difficult future challenges. The Dubuque partnership, known as the Sustainable Dubuque Project, continued for the 2012-2013 academic year. Five Sustainable Dubuque Projects were identified for the 2012-2013 academic year. One of the identified projects concerned “South Port”. The report, "Reimaging the South Port of Dubuque," may be found in the Iowa Digital Library at http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=urban_iisc

Land ownership in South Port (2016) Photo courtesy: Reimaging the South Port of Dubuque
In 2016 property owners in South Port included the City of Dubuque with one-third of the total acreage, DRBE Properties, Dubuque Terminals, Molo Oil Company, NEWT MARINE SERVICE, the state of Iowa, Sunflower Enterprises, a railroad, and the United States Coast Guard. (18)

Plans for riverfront revitalization were expected to include extensive environmental remediation. The city received a $200,000 grant to examine development opportunities with separate grant funds to determine the scope of this work. Preliminary tests indicated contamination by heavy metals, petroleum products, fertilizer, and volatile organic compounds from industrial use. These could be handled by placing a barrier--parking lot or building--over some areas. Other sites would require removal of shallow soils or use of a "clean barrier with geo-membrane" to prevent the escape of vapors. It was even possible that certain plants could be used to absorb some contaminants. City officials planned to apply for an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) loan of up to $1 million for environmental cleanup. (19)



1. Meyer, Jeff. "Years of Activity," Telegraph Herald, January 6, 2017, p. 6A

2. Ibid. p. 7A

3. "To Be or Not to Be," Dubuque Herald, February 14, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740214&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, February 21, 1874, p. 2

5. "Municipal," Dubuque Herald, May 5, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760505&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. Meyer, p. 7A

7. Kruse, Len. "The Federal Barge Line," My Old Dubuque. Center for Dubuque History, Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa 2000 p. 232-236

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Meyer, p. 7A

14. Meyer, Jeff. "Fueling Development," Telegraph Herald, January 13, 2017, p. 8A

15. Ibid., p. 9A

16. Ibid.

17. Barton, Thomas J. "South Port Redevelopment Could Involve Costly Cleanup," Telegraph Herald, September 30, 2017, p. 2A

18. "Fueling Development"

19. Barton, p. 1A