"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey

SWIMMING POOL. In 1915 the city's Bathing Beach Commission rejected the idea of maintaining a bath beach on any part of the river front. In a proposition to the mayor and city council dated February 15, 1915, the commission declared that the EAGLE POINT BEACH had been closed in 1914 because of changes in the channel. A beach below the EAGLE POINT HIGH BRIDGE had proven unsatisfactory because of natural conditions. Because of rising water, money spent improving any area could be wasted. In reviewing how other cities handled the issue, the commission found that most had constructed artificial pools. (1) While river swimming continued for many years, Dubuque took note of the commission findings and moved ahead.

Dubuque's first municipally operated swimming pool, built in 1915 along the eastern side of Elm Street between 14th and 15th STREETS, was never officially opened.

Although filled, no city agency wanted to be responsible for the cost of the water. In 1917 when city officials expressed a desire to construct dressing rooms, citizens rejected the $9,500 bond issue by a vote of 3,200 to 2,340.

The 60- by 130-foot pool was named "So-and So's Folly" or occasionally after one of the Dubuque Board of Aldermen who spearheaded the project. Problems started almost immediately after construction. Operators of the pool found it was difficult to drain because the area's water table, prior to the lock and dam, was much higher. The argument over the cost of the water was carried on between the Board of Aldermen who thought it should be free and the Board of Water Commissioners who believed the water should carry a price.

Six years after its construction, the pool was filled with dirt and the site was made a salvage yard. In 1922 the city garage was erected on the site after the croquet and tennis courts at the south end of the block-long area were removed.

Municipal beaches south of Eagle Point. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Dubuque residents cooled themselves for the next fifteen years by swimming in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER at city maintained beaches south of EAGLE POINT.

In 1922 the next site proposed for a municipal pool was the southern portion of RAFFERTY SLOUGH. Another suggestion was a piece of land near Grandview Park. Also suggested the same year was COMISKEY PARK, a piece and EAGLE POINT PARK. (2)

Opened near Eagle Point in 1937, the municipal pool was immediately popular.

The city's proposal for the construction of a municipal pool at Rafferty Slough was submitted to the Public Works Administration in 1936. The estimated cost of the project was $60,000. (3) The decision to construct the pool near Eagle Point was made the same year. (4)

The dedication ceremony for the new pool culminated an investment of $17,000 by the city with the rest coming from WPA federal money. In addition to seeral speakers, visitors saw an exhibition of diving, a group of "mermaids" demonstrating unique swimming strokes such as the "Ohio River," "Garbo," "hitch-hikers dream," and the Tasmanian crawl. There was a mixed medley competition of swimmers doing traditional strokes and a speed race. In this competition the winner was the first to race across the pool, eat a cracker, drink a glass of water, and swim back. (5)

In 1990 the Nicholas J. Sutton Municipal Pool was constructed in the same area as the HAWTHORNE STREET POOL which was built in 1936 as a project of the WPA during the GREAT DEPRESSION. The FLORA PARK pool was constructed in 1955 with renovations begun in 1990. (6)

In August 2016 it was announced that city officials were planning to hire the services of a consultant to determine the future of Dubuque's two outdoor pools. Both pools were losing water and showed signs of wear. It was expected that over the succeeding five years the pools were require $300,000 in work on known maintenance issues including new heaters and UV system replacement. The consultant was also to develop a comprehensive master plan for potential long-term renovations and possible rebuilding the pools. Further consideration of a proposed joint aquatics center with the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT were awaiting a potential extension of the statewide penny sales tax. Money that might have been available had largely been used for building renovations at the two high schools. (7)

In 2019 there were 72,329 daily admissions at the two municipal pools. More than 50,000 people were registered at Flora and nearly 22,--- at Nicholas J. Sutton. The total was a decrease of 7% from 2018. (8)




1. "No Bathing Beach on River Front," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 17, 1915, p. 12

2. "Council Will Be Asked to Speed Pool Construction," Telegraph Herald, April 12, 1936, p. 2

3. "City Swim Pool Plan Submitted to WPA Chief," Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1934, p. 1

4. "Swim Pool Will Soon Be Reality," Telegraph Herald, April 26, 1936, p. 15

5. "Full Program to be Offered," Telegraph-Herald, June 25, 1937, p. 14

6. Barton, Thomas J. "City Diving Into Pool Maintenance," Telegraph Herald, August 13, 2016, p. 1A

7. Ibid., 2A

8. "2019: By the Numbers," Telegraph Herald, December 29, 2019, p. 1A