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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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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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Dr. John Finley
Photo courtesy: Diane Harris

FINLEY, John. (Charlotte, NC, 1807--Dubuque, IA, Aug. 3, 1877). Finley's interest in the advancement of medical knowledge led to the founding of the FINLEY HOSPITAL (THE). Finley came to Dubuque in 1836. He has been considered the city's first general surgeon and the second permanent physician in the county and State of Iowa. (1) As a frontier doctor, Finley often traveled by horseback over fifty miles to other settlements. He served three years as a physician in the 27th Iowa Voluntary Infantry (Union Army) during the CIVIL WAR before returning to Dubuque to resume his practice. (2)

Finley hoped that his collection of medical books would become the basis of a medical library, but all efforts to establish a medical school were unsuccessful. Finley's attempt to establish ALEXANDER COLLEGE, which he envisioned as the best college west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, were slightly more successful, but that college too did not survive.

Finley, held in great respect by his colleagues and the community, was instrumental in the formation of the NORTHWEST MEDICAL SOCIETY on January 11, 1853. The Society, a group of eight physicians, originally met at the CITY HOTEL. Finley was also the senior member of Finley, Burton and Company (a white LEAD and paint factory). (3) He held valuable holdings in banking and MINING. Finley also served as a trustee of First Presbyterian Church (now WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH).

Finley died of a brain tumor at the age of seventy, leaving his entire estate to his wife, Helen. In her will, Mrs. Finley specified that a hospital be built in memory of her husband. (4) At her death and that of the last of the beneficiaries, the entire estate became property of the hospital. This included the northeast corner of Main and 7th occupied by store of James Hervey, A. R. Knights & Company, T. E. Anders and the Daily Telegraph, the store occupied by W. H. Torbert and other pieces of property of less value around town. (5) The income from the property in 1897 was $6,000 annually (equal to $171,428.57 in 2014 dollars). (6) It was thought the estate would be worth at least $100,000 ($2,857,142.86 in 2014 dollars) when it went to the hospital. (7)

Gravestone in Linwood Cemetery



1. "John W. Finley," Linwood Legacies, Online: http://www.linwoodlegacies.org/john-w-finley.html

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. "The Finleys," Dubuque Herald, March 3, 1897

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid. Valuation: Dave Manuel.com Online:http://www.davemanuel.com/inflation-calculator.php

7. Ibid. Ibid.

Special thanks to Cory Finley.

Oldt, Franklin. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 788