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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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WASHINGTON PARK

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Washington Park with the infamous Cogswell statue
WASHINGTON PARK. Dubuque's oldest platted park, Washington Park was the location of the first church and the first jail in Dubuque. The site, surveyed during the summer of 1833 by G.W. Harrison, was intended for a seminary. In 1834 a Methodist meeting house built of logs was constructed in the southeast corner of the square. The building also served as a court and a schoolhouse. John Bush constructed a house on the northern side of the square in 1836. Philip Morhiser later took possession of the dwelling and lived there for two years. (1)

In 1848 the City fenced in the square, leveled the ground and prepared the site for a park. (2)

The park seems to have been attractive to potential house buyers. In 1865 Mayor Thompson purchased Lots 621-22 Bluff, opposite the park and the Herald observed that “these lots are valuable property.” Over the years, the land was suggested as a downtown mall extension or the site of a courthouse, post office, city hall, or parking lot. Wagons were occasionally parked on the grounds.

In 1872 the park had been ignored for some time. An editorial in the Dubuque Herald complained that the land should have been planted in trees and grass which would already by growing. The paper went on that the park was the best place for political meetings and it was a shame it was not ready to do so. (3)

Washington Park perhaps before 1878 with a turnstile on the sidewalk. Photo courtesy: Center for Dubuque History
In late 1875 Senator William Boyd ALLISON introduced a bill that asked the federal government to abandon the site in Dubuque so that it could be used for court house purposes. (4) While there was general agreement that the present courthouse needed replacement, there was little interest in taking the square for any construction projects. Other sites were suggested.

It was not until 1877 that the land was officially called Washington Park. Alderman Quigley proposed that two cross drives should be built in both Washington and Jackson parks at a cost of $800. Following this a fountain would be constructed in each with private contributions. This was estimated to cost $1,500 to $2,000. He asked for a resolution from the council to pay for these projects and was turned down. The mayor voted against it because it would do no good to open the parks before an ordinance was passed prohibiting cows from roaming at large. (5) A list of contributors for the construction of a pavilion, however, was passed by July 4, 1877. (6)

Shrubbery and trees were planted, walks were laid out and flower beds planned. (7) In May Thomas CONNOLLY pledged $100 towards the cost and Julius K. GRAVES promised to "shell out handsomely" in support of the project. (8) During the same month, the trees and tree boxes surrounding the park were coated with whitewash as a protection against vermin which the Dubuque Herald said at least improved their appearance. (9) In July HEER & NAESCHER revealed a design for a pavilion that would cost little more than had already been collected. (10) Heer and Naescher were hired to begin construction immediately. (11)

Despite the interest in park improvement, a resolution offered in the council to establish sidewalks failed. (12) A fountain, however, was installed and first used on August 7, 1877. (13) The formal opening of the park with its additions was made on August 22, 1877. (14) In September, an announcement was made that turnstiles were being erected. (15) On October 3, 1878 the Dubuque Herald announced that the turnstiles were fitted with spring catches "which keeps them shut when not in use and prevents stock from entering."

On June 1, 1878, a petition was received by the City Council for the erection of a drinking fountain in the park. The council proposed that it would pay one-half of the cost with the other half coming from private donations. The issue came up again in 1879 when the citizens surrounding the park agreed to pay toward the expense of installation. (16) When a fountain was finally dedicated on May 28, 1884, it was topped by a statue of Dr. Henry COGSWELL. A continual problem for the park was stray cattle. Pushing through the turnstiles at the approaches to the park, cattle grazed contentedly unless impounded. (17)

In 1890 Washington Park was considered for the site of the new DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE. The site was originally reserved by the government as a government park although the city was given the use of the land for park purposes. Around 1878 the federal government passed an act authorizing Dubuque County to use the land for a court house if all the abutting property owners agreed. (18)

In 1890 water mains were laid to the pagodas in Washington and JACKSON PARK. In announcing the project, the writers of the Dubuque Herald stated:

         From these small hydrants, the lawn can be sprinkled, thus 
         keeping the grass as green as the midnight lovers who caress
         in the shadow of Kate Shelley's monument. (19) 
This rare view of Washington Park shows a view without the gazebo.
The square has been the scene of many events. In 1895 the neighborhood ladies called for street-front benches in the park side streets. The thought was that more public benches would be less attractive to the "tramps" who commandeered the benches in the middle of the park. The evening park concerts in mid-1895 were so popular that the crowd filled both the park and adjacent streets. In 1896 William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody staged a Wild West show on the grounds. President William McKinley spoke from the park's gazebo on October 16, 1899. More recently the site saw anti-war demonstrations and the annual NATIVITY SCENE.

Ravages of nature and man often took their toll on the park. In 1894 the park grass was so parched that firemen from the 4th and Locust firehouse brought hoses to water the plants. The old pagoda was finally demolished and sold for its salvage value in 1900. The Herald welcomed the move, saying it had been “an eyesore for the past several years.” DUTCH ELM DISEASE and storms destroyed many of the trees in the 1960s.

In 1946 several councilmen led by Frank Van Duelman agreed to a proposal that the city should considered using part of Washington Park as a parking lot to relieve the congestion downtown. City Solicitor John W. KINTZINGER was to look into the legal aspects of such a plan. (20)

Restoration efforts for the gazebo began in 1974 with suggestions made by then-candidate for the Park Board Robert A. Sullivan. TELEGRAPH HERALD reporter Jim Miller later collected $1,000.00 toward restoration costs and suggested that the Dubuque JAYCEES accept the project.

The Jaycee's Washington Square Restoration Committee, headed by attorneys Randy Nigg and Russell Neuwoehner, accepted the challenge including the construction of a replica of the original gazebo and the raising of $60,000.00 for the project. In 1976 a time capsule was buried to be opened during the tricentennial activities in 2076.

In 1900 vandals pulled the Cogswell statue from its base. Some thought they buried it under excavations for a new sidewalk. The Dubuque Herald reported the statue was "removed and stowed away." The next day concrete was poured over the site entombing the object but setting into motion decades of theories if the statue would one day be uncovered.

In 2007 when renovations were made to the park, efforts were made with metal detectors to find the statue. Nothing was located. (21)

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Source:

1. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=u9xDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA464&lpg=PA464&dq=Burton%27s+Furnace+%28dubuque+history%29&source=bl&ots=0CkCGLFR0v&sig=a0Ou1vN3ew6nQUYoq2aOJsXF9Mg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j3HVT5XALaP42QXVp9iFDw&ved=0CGgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Burton%27s%20Furnace%20%28dubuque%20history%29&f=false (p. 547)

2. Ibid.

3. "An Urgent Need," Dubuque Herald, August 11, 1872, p 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18720811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, January 19, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760119&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "The Parks," Dubuque Herald, July 3, 1877, p. 4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770703&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 4, 1877, p. 4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770704&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. Oldt.

8. "The Parks," Dubuque Herald, May 5, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770505&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, May 22, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770522&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 11, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770711&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "The Park Pavilions," Dubuque Herald, July 17, 1877, p. 4. Online:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770717&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. "Municipal," Dubuque Herald, August 7, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770807&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 8, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770808&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

14. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 23, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770823&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

15. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, September 25, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770925&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. "Caught on the Fly, Dubuque Herald, April 29, 1879, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18790429&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

17. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, December 1, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18781201&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

18. "The Court House Location," Dubuque Herald, June 17, 1890 (no pages given)

19. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 30, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900430&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

20. "Parking Meters Likely in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 21, 1946, p. 5

21. Szeszycki, Emily. "The Search for Henry Cogswell," Telegraph Herald, June 17, 2005, p. 1