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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.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Photo courtesy: Old House Enthusiasts' Club House Tour, 1988
Cemetery marker in Linwood Cemetery

THOMPSON, John. (County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Aug. 1, 1821--Dubuque, IA, Sept. 25, 1901). MAYOR. (1344 Locust) Thompson's family came to Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1840. He moved to and lived in Chautauqua, New York and worked there as a harness-maker before he traveled to Iowa and went into business with L. D. Randall. Their partnership grew to become a larger wholesale leather and saddlery hardware business. (1)

Thompson served Dubuque as its mayor for three terms, being unanimously re-elected by both parties without opposition for his second term.

In 1864 during his term as mayor, the council passed a resolution instructing the harbor committee: (2)

   to open a channel at the intersection of 
   Third street with the slough leading into 
   the inner harbor and to build a bridge across 
   said channel with a draw of sufficient width 
   to allow boats to pass up into the inner slough, 
   thus giving steamboats access to the inner 
   harbor and levee, affording a safe and convenient 
   place for laying up steamboats and barges in 
   winter and also furnishing a convenient place for 
   building barges and doing all kinds of steamboat 
   repairs; that the committee be also instructed to 
   take up the bridge which now crosses the inner slough 
   at Third street and to fill up the channel under said 

In 1865, for the first time, a regularly paid and disciplined police force was maintained. (3) At this time the council refused to appropriate $500 for the State Fair to be held here in the fall of 1866. Within a few days the citizens raised $3,421 to secure the fair for two years, prepare the grounds, etc. The city, however, failed to get the fair in 1866. (4) Water works for the city were proposed in July, 1866. It was declared that the old method of hauling water from the river must be abandoned and a new modern system installed. In August, 1866, the council authorized the Water Company to lay pipes in the city. (5) The council committee reported against granting the use of the streets to a railway company until such a plan was clearly authorized by the legislature. After much controversy it was finally decided to submit to popular vote the question of permitting the horse railway to occupy the streets. The result were: For the railway, 2,185; against the railway, 127. (6)

As mayor of Dubuque during the CIVIL WAR, Thompson took an active role in raising volunteers for the Union Army and enjoyed the admiration of General U.S. Grant who often dined at Thompson's elegant Locust Street mansion. In contracting for a wrought iron fence for his yard, Thompson had Grant's likeness worked into the fence posts.

In 1877 Thompson traveled west to visit the Sioux. He had been granted a trade permit to supply "store goods" for trading posts in an area reaching to Canada and encompassing several tribes and an estimated 15,000 Native Americans. (7) Posts were established by him at Bismarck, Dakota Territory and at Poplar River. Increasing hostility between white traders, wood choppers, and the tribes of the region and the presence of only fifty soldiers led many settlers to leave. (8) In 1879 Thompson sold his trading post at Popular River above Fort Buford. (9)

Thompson later sold his home to William A. RYAN who had the structure, known today as the RYAN HOUSE, moved thirteen feet south.



1. "Dubuque Sought Business Methods From Beginning," Telegraph Herald, March 27, 1921, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bi5eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SmANAAAAIBAJ&pg=6644,4092622&dq=james+fanning+dubuque&hl=en

2. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-21-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. "The Nobel Redman," Dubuque Herald, August 14, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770814&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "About the Indians and Col. John Thompson," The Daily Herald, July 4, 1879, p. 4

9. "Trading Post Sold," Dubuque Herald, September 4, 1879, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18790904&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

Linda McNair Cohen, relative