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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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Illustration by Norman Zepeski
The "Gentleman's Farm". Photo courtesy: E. B. Lyon's Interpretative Center

E. B. LYONS INTERPRETATIVE CENTER. Thirty-seven acres in size, the Center stands on grounds, part of the MINES OF SPAIN, purchased in 1859 by Karl Frederick "Otto" JUNKERMANN from a man named John Bush. Junkermann then constructed from stone a barn, house, and chapel resembling a church he attended as a boy in Germany. The grounds which constituted a GENTLEMAN'S FARM were used as pasture for cows and sheep. Grape arbors were planted along with apple trees. Two caretakers were hired to manage the property. Otto's death in 1883 ended family dreams of an estate, and the land was sold by his wife Julia in 1885.

Between 1885 and 1943 the land was bought and sold twelve times. In 1943 Otto's granddaughter Marjorie Reed and her husband Charles purchased the land. The stone house was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1943 and rebuilt the next year.

The Lyons Trust Fund, valued at $290,000 for parkland acquisition established in the will of Edwin B. LYONS and matching federal funds, were used to purchase the 34 acre farm in 1972. (1) Development of the Center included the construction of a nature center in 1976 and the establishment of interpretive trails. A public support group, the Friends of Lyons Prairie-Woodland, was formed to assist the naturalist and staff that were hired.

The City of Dubuque turned the E. B. Lyons Nature Preserve over to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1983. The Commission, now the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, turned the management of the preserve and Mines of Spain over to its Parks Section. E. B. Lyons Nature Center houses the Mines of Spain offices, displays and provides a convenient meeting place. The Preserve, home to many native plants and animals, is also the site of an old LEAD mine.

Use of the Center included the Friends of the Mines of Spain and the Dubuque Audubon Society conducting free recreational and educational activities two Sundays per month during the winter of 1996. Staffed by volunteers, the Center offered videos on a variety of nature subjects and many exhibits and an observation area for viewing birds. Hiking was available and a new cross-country ski trail linked the Center with the JULIEN DUBUQUE MONUMENT. (2)

In 2006 a Dubuque Racing Association grant of $1,476 was used to purchased four spotting scopes and tripods. These were to be used for viewing birds and other wildlife during such programs as the Bald Eagle Watch, National Audubon Society's Christmas and Spring Bird Counts, and year-round by the staff for educational purposes. (3)

In 2010 visitors were invited to the Center to view the $1.8 million expansion which doubled the size adding a 7,400-square foot addition including an auditorium for programs and events, a biology lab, a library for references and educational materials, new exhibits interpreting the science and history of the region, and a conference room able to accommodate 180 people. (4)

The actual publication of the building specifications released in 2014 included the construction of a trail and concrete pad to be used as an outdoor classroom, concrete sidewalks to link the current interpretative center to the trail and parking lots, storm water management, two parking lots, expansion of one parking lot, toilet, open air pavilion, kiosk, and installation of water service. (5)

The Center has been operated through a partnership of the city, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Friends of the Mines of Spain. The recreation area is owned and managed by the state while the city owns the interpretative center. Utilities and staffing were paid by the state. Cuts in state funding led city manager Michael VAN MILLIGEN to recommend in 2019 that $50,000 be allocated to the Center. (6)

Prior to 2017 the Center was managed by DNR staff. Budget cuts led to that staffing being reduced; until the end of 2021 volunteers were relied upon to keep the Center open. This led to reduced hours.

In December, 2021 a new arrangement was created between the DNR; Dubuque County Conservation, and the Friends of the Mines of Spain, a volunteer group supporting the facility and surrounding park. Funding was primarily supplied through the county and city which each contributed $56,000 annually to Center operations. A full-time naturalist was hired to ensure regular operating hours. To celebrate the new arrangement, a reopening was scheduled for December 31st to coincide with the First Day Hike, a popular annual event. The Center hosted a variety of activities and stations providing entertainment and education. (7)



1. "Pay for City 'Licensers' Discussed," Telegraph Herald, December 5, 1972, p. 4

2. Reber, Craig, "Nature Center to Offer Gold Mine of Activities," Telegraph Herald, December 29, 1997, p. 2

3. "DRA Grant Pays for Birdwatching Gear," Telegraph Herald, October 4, 2006, p. 42

4. Becker, Stacey, "'Finishing Touches' for E. B. Lyons," Telegraph Herald, July 31, 2010

5. City of Dubuque Official Notice of Public Hearing on Plans...for the E.B. Lyons Expansion Project," Telegraph Herald, May 9, 2014, p. 23

6. Hinga, Allie, "Dubuque Officials Consider $50,000 Boost for E. B. Lyons Operations," Telegraph Herald, February 24, 2019, p. 15A

7. Kruse, John, "Dubuque Nature Center to Reopen," Telegraph Herald, December 30, 2021, p. 2A