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SHIRAS, Oliver Perry

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The Shiras Memorial was constructed at Eagle Point Park in honor of the many contributions legal scholar Oliver Perry Shiras gave to this community. Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque
Dubuque City Directory, 1857-1858. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

SHIRAS, Oliver Perry (Pittsburg, PA, Oct. 22, 1833--Seabreeze, FL, Jan. 7, 1916). Shiras came to Dubuque soon after his graduation from Yale in 1856. (1) During the CIVIL WAR he served as aide-de-camp to General Francis J. HERRON in campaigns through Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana.

After the war, Shiras returned to politics and his legal practice in Dubuque. He served on the City Council in 1866 and 1867, filling out an unexpired term of an elected official who moved from the ward from which he was elected. He was offered several foreign appointments by Senator William Boyd ALLISON, but refused them to work in the firm of Shiras, Van Duzee, and Henderson in Dubuque (2) Shiras served as a Republican delegate to many state and congressional conventions. On August 2, 1882, during President Arthur's administration, he was appointed United States Judge of the Northern District of Iowa and held the position until his retirement in 1903. (3)

Among the many important legal decisions in his career was the one he returned in the case of Washburn & Moen Company vs the Beat-Em-All Barbed Wire Company of Cedar Falls, Iowa. After hearing over three hundred witnesses, Shiras returned a verdict in favor of the defendants that resulted in prairie farmers no longer being victimized by high-priced fencing. In the case of Trans-Mississippi Freight Association, Shiras held that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act did apply to railroads and his decision was upheld by the supreme court. He was involved in many cases involving Native Americans. (4) Shiras was involved in so many equity cases that a famous law book Shiras' Equity Practice was written. He was considered one of the best authorities on bankruptcy in the nation; his law library in Dubuque was often the source of references that could not be acquired by beginning lawyers. (5)

Grave marker in Linwood Cemetery.

During Shiras' twenty-two-year judicial career he served as a judge of the Northern District, held circuit court in states that were part of the Eighth National Judicial Circuit, and was a member of the Circuit Court of Appeals for five years. When he retired in 1903, Shiras received a personal letter of congratulations and good wishes from President Theodore Roosevelt. (6)

Upon his retirement as a judge, Shiras spent a large portion of his time exploring the area of EAGLE POINT. He gradually developed the idea that a portion of the land could be set aside as a picnic and playground and the land improved for those purposes. The rest of the ground should be devoted to more quiet purposes. The opportunity to transform his ideas into reality came soon. In April, 1908 a park commission was appointed and Judge Shiras was chosen chairman. It had been one year since Charles Mulford Robinson, at the insistence of the DUBUQUE WOMEN'S CLUB, DUBUQUE COMMERCIAL CLUB, and the DUBUQUE TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS had been asked to survey and make a general plan for a park system in this city. Considered an authority, Robinson considered Eagle Point as part of the proposed system. (7)

On June 12, 1908 Judge Shiras directed the raising of funds to pay for the park system. There were no funds from taxation available until 1909, but Shiras contributed a great deal from his private investments. The first purchase consisted of just over 85 acres. As the opportunity arose, more tracts were acquired along with the river bank for over a mile. Interested in ensuring access to the grounds, he proposed a stairway which was constructed from the DUBUQUE HIGH BRIDGE road. With the help of Frank D. STOUT he convinced the street car company to extend its line into the very center of the park. (8)

The city council in February, 1910 at Shiras' suggestion adopted an ordinance providing for the election of three park commissioners. In the April election Herbert ADAMS, Frank J. PIEKENBROCK and Shiras were chosen. Although he paid close attention to the entire park system, Eagle Point Park remained his special focus. (9)

Among other civic organizations, Shiras was a charter member of the Dubuque Rotary. (10)

Oliver Perry Shiras, George SHIRAS, Jr., and Francis J. Herron were second cousins. Oliver & George Shiras's mother Eliza and Francis J. Herron where first cousins.

The Shiras and Herron brothers all came to Dubuque around 1855 from the Pittsburgh area. George Shiras II (b.1806) married Elizabeth Perry Herron and had George Jr. (III) (b. 1832), Oliver Perry (b. 1833) and Francis Herron Shiras. Eliza Herron's (b.1809) father was Francis J. Herron's (b. 1837) uncle Rev. Francis Herron (b. 1774). Francis J. Herron's father was Francis Herron's brother and Francis J. Herron's uncle John Herron Jr. (b. 1792). Elizabeth Herron Shiras and Francis J. Herron's grandfather was also named John Herron Sr.

Francis J. Herron also had a brother, David R. Herron, Lieutenant in the 3rd Iowa Light Artillery Battery, also known as the Dubuque Battery, organized in Dubuque. And besides Oliver P. Shiras serving as aid de camp to Br. Gen. Francis J. HERRON during the CIVIL WAR, Herron had a nephew, James A. Herron, son of brother William A. Herron (b. 1821), who served on his staff.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Shiras, Jr. married Dubuque born Lillie E. Kennedy (b. 1842) daughter of Robert T. Kennedy (b. 1819). It appears Robert T. Kennedy and several of his children are buried in Dubuque.



1. "Renowned Jurist Chose Dubuque as Home by Accident," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, August 24, 1930, p. 18

2. "O. P. Shiras Retires as a Jurist After 20 Years, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 1, 1903, p. 4

3. Piper, Beauty on the Bluffs Holds Legacy That Lasts," Telegraph Herald, July 26, 2009, p. 1A

4. "O.P. Shiras Retires..."

5. Ibid.

6. "Renowned Jurist..."

7. "Shiras Memorial Dedicated Sunday," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, May 30, 1921, p. 10

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.






Genealogy research by John Pregler