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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.

RYAN, William A.

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Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/102209234:60525?tid=&pid=&queryId=789a3b6ae37e74d8bfdfe088f1582f0c&_phsrc=HEg2961&_phstart=successSource

1398 Locust. Photo courtesy: Old House Enthusiasts' Club House Tour, 1990

RYAN, William A. (Shepardstown, WV, July 10, 1820--Dubuque, IA, Sept. 6, 1890). A resident of Galena, Illinois, from 1846 to 1868, Ryan and his brother James operated a grocery and pork packing business. Ryan's friendship with General U. S. Grant assured the Illinois company of continuous orders for meat during the CIVIL WAR. William and James also organized the Ryan Guards, a company of one hundred men who fought in the war.

The brothers owned the land adjacent to Sinsinawa Mound. This was later sold with two reservations. One tract of land was used as the Ryan cemetery. Another parcel of land was sold to the Dominican Sisters for their convent and academy. William Ryan was a trustee of the New Melleray monastery. The business partnership of the Ryan brothers ended when William moved to Dubuque. (1) James remained in the packing business in Galena. When he died, the Ryan Livestock Company was organized by his sons Charles L., James W. and Oswald E. Ryan to operate the farm. (2)

Advertisement. Photo courtesy: William K. Hammel

Ryan moved to Dubuque in 1868 to establish a meat packing company and met with immense success. The huge packinghouse known as WILLIAM RYAN AND SON located on the levee and Jones Street thrived until 1896 when fire destroyed the business. (3)

In Dubuque, Ryan is perhaps as well remembered for his homes constructed in ITALIAN VILLA ARCHITECTURE. The house at 1389 Locust Street was designed by the famed architect Van Osdel who was also commissioned to design Chicago's famed Palmer House Hotel. Ryan moved into the house in 1871 with his wife Ann Eliza Dignan and their children, Stephen Douglas, Thomas Jefferson, John William, Arthur Edward, William Jr., Imogene, and Anne Isabel. (4)

Ryan's wife died on March 26, 1872, and he remarried.

Ryan later purchased the house of John THOMPSON constructed in 1873, and with his second wife, Catherine Brown Ryan, and their children Alice, Eugene, John Arthur, James Albercht, and Genevieve moved in during 1885. The Thompson-Ryan house has been described as one of Iowa's most outstanding examples of the Italianate/French Second Empire mode. Its two-story brick base is crowned by a dormered mansard roof, and atop this is a curved cupola with a mansard roof. The cupola's scale would be appropriate in a public building. (5) Despite its size, thirty rooms and three stories, the new Ryan house was moved thirteen feet to the south. Evidence of the new and old foundations may be seen in the basement of the RYAN HOUSE where gaps between the two foundations were filled with bricks. (6)



1. "The Late William Ryan," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 6, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900906&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 2, 1892, p. 4

3. Ibid.

4. Tour of the Ryan House, 1975

5. "Thompson-Ryan House," SAH Archipedia, Online: https://sah-archipedia.org/

6. Tour of the Ryan House