"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

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


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search

DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY. The Dubuque County Historical Society can trace its beginnings to the HERRMANN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, established in the 1870s.

The first steps in organizing the society took place on January 27, 1950. Members of the organizing committee were John Rider WALLIS, Henry HERRMANN, Henry J. Opsahl, Mrs. William A. Smith, Mrs. Helen C. McGuire, Miss Elsie Datisman, Jack Cody, George J. Hohman, Frank M. RHOMBERG, and Robert Percy ROEDELL. William J. PETERSEN had also expressed his interest in the idea. (1)

The formal announcement of the society was made at a dinner held on March 9, 1950 at the Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Petersen presented a program and urged steps be made to preserve the SHOT TOWER which he described as "one of the priceless gems on the Upper Mississippi Valley." Richard Roedell stated that the articles of incorporation had been filed with the secretary of state and that the new charter would be valid until March 2, 2000. (2)

In 1964 the Society leased the HAM HOUSE from the city of Dubuque and began restoration activities and the development of a museum. The collections of Richard HERRMANN were accepted. The Society also acquired a LOG CABIN and a one-room schoolhouse. Funds were raised for the restoration of the SHOT TOWER and development of an annual historic preservation award.

In November, 1968 Mercer informed the City Council that attendance during the summer more than doubled from 1967 from 2,300 to 4,700 and that visitors had come from thirty-nine states and fourteen countries. Revenue from the 318 Historical Society memberships and admissions to the Ham House were adequate to meet the society's costs although a number of business firms had contributed additional funds. (3)

Growth of the Society has been linked to the direction of Helen MERCER and Jerry ENZLER.

In 1978 the River Museum was founded. A site on the ICE HARBOR was acquired. A historic railroad freight house was donated, placed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES, and restored with a grant from the Maritime Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A $1 million fund drive resulted in the development of the FRED W. WOODWARD RIVERBOAT MUSEUM. The 277-foot long WILLIAM M. BLACK was opened as a museum in 1980, and the first exhibits of the River Museum were opened in 1982. The Society received a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant in 1983 to complete the River Museum, complete the Ham House restoration, and establish the education department of the museum and the Society's first endowment. In 1985 the National Rivers Hall of Fame was adopted by the River Museum as a national outreach program. The goal of the Society to double the size of the River Museum complex to provide additional space for programs, storage, archives, and exhibits was accomplished in 1991.

The Society in cooperation with many civic organizations turned its attention to the rapidly growing TOURISM industry. The development of the NATIONAL MISSISSIPPI RIVER MUSEUM AND AQUARIUM has brought over one million visitors to the Dubuque area since its opening.

The Society successfully raised $54 million to organize and expand its Mississippi River Museum into the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. The Museum & Aquarium is accredited by the American Association of Museums — a distinction held by only 9 percent of American museums. It was named an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in August 2002, and was accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums in 2009. (4)



1. "Historical Group Here is Forming," Telegraph Herald, January 25, 1950, p. 3. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19500125&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "History Fans Launch Society," Telegraph Herald, March 10, 1950, p. 2. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19500310&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Dec. 2 Hearing on $2.6 Million in City Bonds," Telegraph-Herald, November 13, 1968, p. 27

4. "DCHS History," National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Online: http://www.rivermuseum.com/about-us/dchs-history/