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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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A large retaining wall at LORAS COLLEGE collapsed on October 12, 2018. The causes suspected were heavy rain and the age of the wall. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
WALLS. Visitors to Dubuque are quick to recognize the many walls on the hills surrounding the downtown area.

Many of these walls were constructed prior to 1896. (1)

In September 1885 Alderman Thomas Byrnes offered a resolution instructing the street commissioner to repair the retaining wall of St. Mary's Street which was falling down. The resolution was referred to the street committee with power. (2)

In November 1896 the retaining wall on Eleventh Street was found to have bulged 12 inches in twenty-four hours. The city engineer decided to remove a lower wall and construct "a bridge, one end of which would rest on the north wall." (3) The construction of the wall was blamed for structural damage to a home of "Mrs. Lull." It was reported that walls of the rear room were cracked by the pressure and doors were no longer able to be closed "all coming from a wall without a foundation" (4)

The Eleventh Street Wall again made the local news in July, 1898. Although not an attorney, Mayor Berg looked up the contracts and found that not all of the specifications had been met and that the city had never accepted the wall from the contractor. On July 25, 1898, the mayor served the contractor, a Mr. Proctor, with a notice. Stating that the wall on the eastern side of DeSota Terrace was in a dangerous condition, and since the work had never been accepted, the contractor was "notified to take steps to remedy the defects in the construction." (5)

In May 1927 following a heavy rain, the city manager informed the council that the Villa Street retaining wall would need to be rebuilt while council members announced their intention of checking the wall at the rear of the Ham property on Bluff. (6)

In 1960 a large section of a 60-foot high wall at the rear of 1441-1449 Bluff collapsed. Acting City Manager Leo FROMMELT stated that the responsibility lay with the property owners. City building and zoning ordinances called for no inspection of the walls which were fifty to one hundred years old. Only if the walls touch a public street of other city land would the city administration be responsible for the inspection or be liable in case of injury through a collapse of a wall, according to Building Commissioner Don Bandy. (7)

In April, 2008 a rock wall collapsed along Highland Place. City officials said a retaining wall collapse would cost $250,000 in clean-up and construction. In April 2013 a nearly two-story rock wall collapsed along 18th and Central forcing a couple to move from their home which was threatened. (8)

In December 2009 dozens of limestone bricks - some about the size of a refrigerator, collapsed onto a Grove Terrace home owned by Craig Kowalski. Ribbons of mangled fence, gravel and portions of pavement poured down onto the southwest corner of the home exposing a gas line in the process.

No one was injured when the limestone retaining wall gave way, and the cause of the collapse remained unclear to city officials. Utility employees from Aquila spent the morning working to halt the flow of natural gas to Kowalski's home by pinching shut a pipe on Bluff and 11th streets - across the street from the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY. By 10:48 a.m., fire officials and Aquila crew members gave Kowalski the "all clear" to approach his house. (9)



1. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1880. 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-22-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

2. "City Council," The Dubuque Herald, September 29, 1885, p. 4

3. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 20 1896, p. 5

4. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 26, 1896, p. 5

5. "Another Chapter," The Dubuque Herald, July 26, 1898, p. 8

6. "Sewers Too Small, Council Informed," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, May 10, 1927, p. 9

7. "Rock Retaining Walls Not Under Jurisdiction of City," Telegraph Herald, April 15, 1960, p. 3

8. Habegger, Becca. "Dubuque Couple Fighting City Over Failed Retaining Wall," Online: http://www.ktiv.com/story/22188430/2013/05/07/dubuque-couple-fighting-city-over-failed-retaining-wall

9. "Retaining Wall Collapse Damaged Dubuque Home. Online: http://telegraph-herald.vlex.com/vid/tri-retaining-wall-collapse-damages-72631415