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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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Vernon McGrath. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

HORSESHOE PITCHING. Inter-city horseshoe pitching contests were held as early as 1913 when a team from Dyersville was planning to meet a Dubuque team for tournaments in team, doubles, and singles honors. (1) As a sport for social gatherings, horseshoe pitching, for men, was offered at the Ladies of St. Joseph Parish of Washington Township "Lawn Fete" organized for August 16, 1916. (2)

In 1921 the third annual horseshoe pitching tournament, affectionately known as "barnyard golf," for the championship of the United States was held in St. Petersburg, Florida the week of February 21, 1921. (3) In June of that year the "Farm Picnic" in Dubuque County was held. Dubuque merchants and civic organizations donated prizes for every contest of the day. The Kiwanis Club provided a pair of twin cups to the winners of the horseshoe pitching contest. There was nothing but team pitching and the members of the winning team each received a cup. To avoid delay, there were five sets of pegs placed so that more than one contest could be held--yet "no Dubuque teams were permitted to enter the contest." No reason was given. (4) Horseshoe pitching became a popular sport for any summer occasion such as the annual picnic of the ELKS CLUB at the RIVERSIDE COUNTRY CLUB.

The Dubuque City Council on June 5, 1922 created a public playgrounds commission to consolidate all the recreational activities under one department of city city government. In the second year of the commission, the number of playgrounds were increased to seven with games including volleyball, baseball, horseshoe pitching, sewing, weaving, folk dancing and bird house making. (5)

Pitching horseshoes became especially popular in Dubuque during the GREAT DEPRESSION when people had plenty of time and the cost of equipment was slight. Leagues were formed and eventually the city had courts at EAGLE POINT PARK and MURPHY PARK. (6) An organized campaign to collect $75,000 to improve the city's recreational facilities in 1947. Included in the plans were the construction of horseshoe pitching courts at ALLISON-HENDERSON PARK, the North End playground at Lincoln and Burden Avenues, and the Valley Street Playground. (7) Players interested in the sport were celebrating their fifth season as members of the Dubuque Horseshoe Pitchers Association in 1983. (8)

Few local players could compete successfully with Glen (Red) Henton of Maquoketa. Competing on the circuit since 1960, Henton in 1978 was the reigning world left-handed horseshoe pitching champion. In 1977 he finished second in the world meet. The 57-year old held world records set in the 1965 World Championship meet with most ringers in one game (175), most double ringers (80) and the most shoes thrown in a game (194). (9) He won the Iowa state championship 18 times and was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most consecutive ringers. (10)

In 1981 the Dubuque County Fairgrounds offered a new horseshoe field established with the help of the 160-member Dubuque Horseshoe Pitcher's Association. The first "Horseshoe Legends" tournament, an invitational contest, featured Walter "Deadeye" Williams, the 21-year old world horseshoe champion from Chino, California and Iowa champion Ralph Simon of Waterloo. (11) Williams won first prize and $500 making 540 ringers out of 600 shoes tossed. Glen Henton won second place and $250.

Horseshoe pitching at the 1984 Dubuque County Fair featured Ken Trowbridge of the Dubuque Horseshoe Pitching Association putting on a demonstration. Other competitions included singles in Class A-C, Doubles in Division 1-2, and Legends of Horseshoes was won by Glen Henton who also had the high tournament average of 77.4 percent ringers. (12) County fair interest in the sport led to a handicap tournament in 1988 for anyone from amateur to professional with contestants playing for trophies and cash prizes provided from the $2 fee pool. (13)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Dubuque's role in competitive horseshoe pitching included Loras R. Grant who was a member of the 1986 World Championship horseshoe pitching team. He was a member of the Dubuque, National and Iowa horseshoe pitching associations. (14) In 2002 Bill Grobstick became the first local competitor to win the men's open singles championship. He had also won the Dubuque city championship that summer. He won the Minnesota State Championship in 1994. After retiring from the sport, he returned to it in 2001 by finishing in a tie for second at the Iowa State Fair. He worked actively with the Dubuque Parks and Leisure Department in improving the courts at FLORA PARK (15) Mike Fishnick Jr. finished first in the Iowa Class E indoor horseshoe pitching tournament held in 2004. (16) He had been a runner-up in his division in the world tournament in 1999 and qualified for the World Championships in 2003. (17) In 2006 Alan and Nathan Duffy competed in the first Junior event in the World Horseshoe Pitching Tournament in Gillette, Wyoming. Alan, who had turned 15, finished third in the Junior Division D. Nathan, at the age of thirteen finished second in the Junior Division D. Their grandfather, Michael Fishnick Sr., one of the organizers of Dubuque horseshoe pitching also participated in the tournament.

Vernon V. MCGRATH and Mike Fishnick in 2000 convinced the Iowa Hawkeye Horseshoe Pitchers Association to allow Dubuque to host the inaugural Dubuque Open at Flora Park. Part of their motivation was to get more of the 75 competitors from the Dubuque Horseshoe Pitchers Association league to buy the $25 card required to play in state meets. (18) Placing in the top 12% in three sanctioned tournaments in one year qualified a contestant for the state tournament. (19) In 2006 Flora Park hosted fifty two pitchers--a record attendance in the five years the park has hosted the Iowa Hawkeye Horseshoe Pitchers Association. McGrath was among those who worked for years to get the courts renovated. The Leisure Services Department installed a new lighting system, fences, dirt boxes and pavement while expanding the area from ten to twelve courts. (20)

As of 2017 the Iowa Hawkeye Horseshoe Pitching Association (IHHPA) Hall of Fame listed only Joe Dolter who was inducted in 1984.



1. "Horseshoe Men in Contests," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, June 22, 1913, p. 7

2. "A Lawn Fete," The Telegraph-Herald, August 13, 1916, p. 8

3. "Old and Young to Match Skill in 'Barnyard Golf' Title Tournament," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 15, 1921, p. 13

4. "Farm Picnic to Draw Huge Crowd," The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, June 15 1921, p. 3

5. "Recreation Board is Given Full Charge," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, August 24, 1930, p. 50

6. "...Playing Barnyard Golf" Telegraph Herald, September 10, 1971, p. 18

7. "Campaign for Funds to Last for One Week," Telegraph-Herald, April 13 1947, p. 17

8. "Horseshoe Meeting Set," Telegraph Herald, April 6 1983, p. 9

9. "Maquoketa's Henton Still in There Pitching," Telegraph Herald, April 1, 1978, p. 16

10. Speltz, Bill, "Local 'Ringer' Brings Home Dubuque's First State Horseshoe Title," Telegraph Herald, August 27 2002, p. 1 (Sports)

11. "'Horseshoe Legends' Pleased Connoisseurs," Telegraph Herald, August 17, 1981, p. 8

12. "Horseshoe Pitching," Telegraph Herald, August 13, 1984, p. 4

13. Japsen, Bruce, "County Fair Hosts Horseshoe Tourney," Telegraph Herald, August 14, 1988, p. 43

14. "Loras R. Grant," Obituaries, Telegraph Herald, Sept. 16, 1996, p. 16

15. Speltz

16. Leitner, Jim, "Henkels to Bring Amateur Boxing Event to Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, December 7, 2004, p. 9

17. Speltz, Bill, "Local Duo Shooting for Ringer Today with Horseshoe Tournament," Telegraph Herald, June 3, 2000, p. 13

18. Ibid.

19. Leitner, Jim, "Making Their Pitch," Telegraph Herald, June 5, 2005, p. 1 (Sports)

20. Leitner, Jim, "City Tosses a Ringer," Telegraph Herald, June 4, 2006, p. 66