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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Park and Recreation Department patch-2010

PARKS. Dubuque's array of parks includes EAGLE POINT PARK, FLORA PARK, ALLISON-HENDERSON PARK, MURPHY PARK, MADISON PARK, WASHINGTON PARK, VETERANS' MEMORIAL PARK, and JACKSON PARK. City Public Information Officer Randy Gehl stated in 2015 that 98 percent of Dubuque's homes are within a half-mile of a park or public space. The national average is 85%. (1) Dubuque in that year was also well above the national average of 20.3 park acres per 1,000 residents with a total of 778.8. (2)

Prior to 1900 Dubuque had four parks within the downtown area. The site of Washington Park, surveyed in 1833 by G. W. Harrison, was marked on the plat of Dubuque accepted by an act of Congress on July 2, 1836. Such areas were to be designated as "squares" and reserved from sale. John Busch, a two-term MAYOR, built a house at the corner of Sixth and Locust STREETS and rented it to Philip Morheiser in 1834. This house later served as a Methodist church, public court house, and school until it was moved to a different location. The area was known as the "Public Square" until the city council changed its name to Washington Square in 1857, honoring the nation's first president. Trees, for which the council paid eighty-five dollars in SCRIP, were planted in the square in 1852.

On August 25, 1876, Congress relinquished all claims to the square and granted the area to Dubuque County for construction of a courthouse. The bill also provided that the City of Dubuque and nearby property owners had to agree to such a proposed use. A renovation program carried out in 1877 indicated the interest of the people in maintaining the area as a park. Soon after the site was renamed Washington Park.

Jackson Park was used as a cemetery before it was designated a public park on July 2, 1836, by the federal government. Revised city ordinances of 1881 set the site aside and dedicated it as a public square. Dubuque's town marshal was given authority over the area, the first indication of supervision of municipal park areas.

The third park prior to 1900 was a triangular parcel of land at the intersection of Bluff, Locust, and Sixteenth STREETS. Dedicated for public use by the plat approved by Congress on July 2, 1836, this became known as Grant Park. The City was officially given control of the site on August 3, 1885. The area in recent years was used as a decorative traffic lane divider.

Phoenix Park. Photo courtesy: Bob Johnsen

Flat-Iron Park, or Phoenix Park, was located at Jones and Main. Purchased from the Dubuque Harbor Company on November 6, 1856, for one dollar, the site was used for many years as a market place before it was converted into a park through the efforts of "Dinny" Smith, a former councilman. (3) Electric lights were installed in the park during November, 1912. Following the practice used in other parks, five lights were turned on in the park until 1:00 clock p.m. after which one large light was used the rest of the night. This area was later used as a traffic lane divider.

Between 1888 and 1905 interest in expanding the public park system lagged. As the city grew, however, interest developed in additional park space. Judge Oliver Perry SHIRAS formed a committee to create a better park system for the city. (4) The noted eastern park expert Charles Mulford Robinson was hired to make observations and recommendations. In 1907 his report was submitted.

Robinson found that although the city was surrounded by natural beauty there was not even a park commission. Dubuque's "parks" were limited to little triangles of property at street intersections and two "little city squares" which he considered "good enough of their kind" but lacking the "recreative functions of a municipal park system and having no "aesthetic influence beyond the property directly abutting upon them." Land which could have provided vistas had been sold. (5)

              The citizen who would enjoy the beauty 
              that should be the right of those who 
              live in Dubuque is compelled to trespass 
              on private property.

He found that the city lacked money for other than the "most commonplace purposes" of which the need was considerable.

Robinson found that Dubuque's natural environment offered three main features: the river, the bluffs, and the western highlands with views of rolling country. These three features he found throughout the city from north to south. Robinson believed a modern city had five general park needs: 1) small ornamental spaces; 2) local or neighborhood parks; 3) playgrounds and recreative fields; 4) large country parks; and 5) connecting parkways or boulevards that connect the park units into a system. (6)

Robinson believed Dubuque's irregular street system provided many opportunities for small ornamental spaces. Especially attractive sites were to be found at 18th and Clay and the various Grandview avenue intersections. He also believed the walls of rock and bluff too steep for building should be protected for their unique beauty. Some were already hidden behind billboards. (7)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Large parks, according to Robinson, should be so extensive and so full of many vistas that they would offer the city residents the greatest contrast to urban life. He believed Dubuque should have at least two such parks in widely separated areas. Robison believed wise civic leaders would purchase land some distance from the city for a picnic area until the city's growth suggested more intensive use. He strongly suggested EAGLE POINT as an ideal park location, Kelly's Bluff, and the east side of Grandview Avenue "just before one reaches the Mother House." Despite some local interest in developing HAM'S ISLAND, Robinson believed the cost of developing it alone would be as much as that spent on all the other options. (8)

Connecting parks into a system would, according to Robinson, include planting a double row of trees on the south bank of the ICE HARBOR on land owned by the city. A promenade could be laid out "with frequent incandescent lights and seats beneath the trees." This would be continued into a park created at RAFFERTY SLOUGH and southward to Mt. Carmel Avenue. (9)

The city's first park board was elected in February 1910 with neighborhood parks soon being developed throughout Dubuque. (10)

Stewart's Park, later known as UNION PARK, benefited when the Dubuque Electric Railway, Light and Power Company extended a track from the city to the park in 1890. By 1910 the park was considered one of the most beautiful in Iowa. The popular NUTWOOD PARK was the scene of many horse races and some of eastern Iowa's most daring aerial exhibitions.

A less developed amusement park was located along Rhomberg Avenue in the early 1900s. Alphons L. RHOMBERG, owner of the DUBUQUE STREET RAILWAY COMPANY, extended his line to this site where he constructed a bandstand and band shell.

One of the least accessible but yet a popular recreation area was KIMBEL PARK on an island in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER north of the present ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM.

A private park was the shooting range and surrounding acreage maintained by the Schuetzen Geselschaft, later known as the DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY. The grand opening on July 11, 1887, brought most of Dubuque's society out to witness the dazzling parade of the club members with their heavy target rifles.

Library Terrace Park, located just south of the ELEVENTH STREET ELEVATOR, was the last contribution of Judge Shiras before his death. Lights were first turned on in the park on May 3, 1916. Park commissioners had the land terraced and sodded.

Roosevelt Park, located on the North Cascade Road on the southwest side of Dubuque, was closed in 1984 because of the cost of maintaining it. In 1989 the city council began to look for ways of reopening the area as a self-supporting operation. At that time a park and recreation commission subcommittee suggested the construction of a golf course as a method of establishing this financial self-sufficiency.

In 1990 a market study suggested that the Dubuque area could support another municipal golf course. An architectural firm from Colorado was hired to design a layout of the course, and in November the council authorized $10,000 for topographical mapping and $5000 for feasibility studies.

In June 1991, the council heard that constructing a golf course at Roosevelt Park would cost an estimated $4.82 million. First Golf of Denver, Colorado, was suggested as the contractor. Under a proposed plan, Banc One Leasing Corp. would advance the construction money. Management of the course would become a responsibility of the city that would repay the loan over twenty years and then own the course. If the city withdrew, Banc One would take over the course. This proposal would not require the approval of the voters. A referendum whether to issue bonds for the course was defeated by the voters on January 28, 1992. The potential of developing an 18-hole course on the site was dealt another blow in 1994 with the announcement that a private Dubuque development group planned to construct a public 18-hole course west of Asbury. (11)

The City of Dubuque follows the National Recreation and Park Association's classification guidelines.

Community Parks--20 to 100 acres in size and serve an area of two to four miles in diameter.

1. A. Y. MCDONALD PARK Hawthorne St. and Volunteer Dr. 8 acres

2. Bergfeld Recreation Area 76000 Chavenelle Dr. 30 acres

3. EAGLE POINT PARK 2601 Shiras 164 acres

4. Flora Park 2605 Pennsylvania 35 acres

5. Granger Creek Nature Trail Dubuque Technology Park 24 acres

6. Heritage Trail 22nd and Elm 5 acres

7. MARSHALL PARK 3800 Arboretum Drive 50 acres

8. McAleece Complex 1801 Admiral Sheeny Drive 42 acres

9. Medical Associates Greenbelt 33 acres

10. Miller-Riverview Park 1851 Admiral Sheeny Drive 20 acres

11. Murphy Park 1700 South Grandview 80 acres

12. PYATIGORSKY PARK 16th and Kerper 1.3 acres

13. ROOSEVELT PARK 14000 North Cascade Road 207 acres

14. Veterans' Memorial Park 2700 Northview Dr. 73 acres

15. Washington Park 700 Locust 1 acre

Neighborhood Parks--5 to 20 acres and serve an area of .5 to 1 mile in diameter. 1. Allison-Henderson Park 1500 Loras 5 acres

2. Comiskey Park 255 East 24th 4 acres

3. Gay Park 2833 Burlington 9 acres

4. USHA PARK 3937 Pennsylvania 8 acres

5. Valentine Park 860 Valentine Drive 11 acres

6. Valley High Park 1290 Cerro Drive 6 acres

7. Orange Park 18th and Washington Unknown

Mini Parks--typically no more than a quarter of an acre serving an area of .5 miles in diameter

1. Avon Park 500 Avon 1 acre

2. Burden Park 2701 Burden Ave. 1 acre

3. Cancer Survivor Park Third and College .5 acre

4. CLEVELAND PARK 625 Cleveland 4 acres

5. Elmwood Green Park 830 Kane .2 acre

6. Falk Park 1701 Earl Drive 1 acre

7. Flat Iron Park 43 Main 1 acre

8. Grant Park 1500 Bluff .2 acre

9. Harvest View Park 2350 Matthew John Dr. 2 acre

10. Ice Harbor Park Port of Dubuque .1 acre

11. Hilltop Park 600 Wilson alley

12. Jackson Park 1500 Main St. 2 acres

13. Jefferson Park 665 University .5 acre

14. Madison Park 1824 North Main 3 acres

15. Marna Ridge Children's Forest 1694 Geraldine 4 acres

16. Pinard Park 2819 Pinard .5 acre

17. Rocco Buda Jr. Park 508 Loras .1 acre

18. Southern Park 200 Southern Ave. 2 acres

19. Teddy Bear Park Gabriel and High Cloud 1 acre

20. Waller-Cooper Park 600 Cooper Place .5 acre

21. Welu Park 3655 Welu Drive .5 acre

To Be Developed (7)

1. Creek Wood Park 1798 Creek Wood Drive 1.0 acre

2. Eagle Valley Park 2095 Harpy Eagle Court 2.3 acres

3. English Ridge Park Stone Valley Drive 1.9 acres

4. North Fork Trail Park Keymont Drive 3.8 acres

5. Pebble Cove Park Charleston Court .6 acre

6. Westbrook Park 7599 North Westbrook Drive 5.2 acres

7. Upper Bee Branch Garfield Avenue to 24th St. 11.0 acres

Throughout 2023, city officials planned to draft a new parks master plan to outline the maintenance and improvements at the local parks. I would also include strategies for future land acquisition to expand recreational spaces. Land was sometimes donated to the city. As an example, housing development plans by builders often included land for parks to add residential appeal for future home owners. (11)



Sources for many of the larger parks can be found with the particular entry.

1. Becker, Stacey. "Investing in Recreation and Leisure," Telegraph Herald, July 5, 2015, p. 1

2. Ibid.

3. "Old-Fashioned Family Boarding Houses Were Popular," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, April 9, 1933, p. 9

4. Becker

5. "Robinson's Plan for Park System," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, October 20, 1907, p. 12

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Becker

11. Eiler, Donnelle. "Developer Tees Up Golf Course Plan," Telegraph Herald, April 14, 1994, p. 1

12. Kruse, John, "Property High Priority," Telegraph Herald, January 15, 2033, p. 1A