"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
A prominent display in the Dubuque Ice Harbor, the William M. Black

WILLIAM M. BLACK. A permanent exhibit moored in the ICE HARBOR near the NATIONAL RIVERS HALL OF FAME and the FRED W. WOODWARD RIVERBOAT MUSEUM, the William M. Black is one the museums operated by the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY. The Black was named for the chief of the United States Army Corps of Engineers following WORLD WAR II. In 1993 it became the second NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK in Dubuque following the OLD JAIL. (1)

The boat, which cost $628,000 to build in 1934, was one of the last great steam-powered side-wheelers used for dredging operations primarily on the Missouri River and MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Powered by two 32-ton side-wheelers, one of which now stands in front of the Riverboat Museum, the Black burned 7,000 gallons of oil daily in its huge boilers. The boat had the capability of dredging 80,000 cubic feet of silt daily, while crawling at a speed between 150 and 200 feet per hour. A 50- to 60-man crew operated the boat around the clock. (2)

Built at the Marietta Manufacturing Company of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the Black was last used in 1973. When the federal government announced the Black's retirement, Dubuque became one of several cities competing for it. Senators John Culver and Roger Jepsen along with Iowa Governor Robert Ray pushed several reasons the General Services Administration should choose Dubuque:

               1. Dubuque had already established a museum building and curator,
               2. the city had already raised $400,000
               3. the city had the advantage of a harbor, and
               4. the city had a long history of association with the river (3)

Additional help came from the Surplus Property Division of the State of Iowa which pressured the GSA to keep Dubuque in the running.

The Black was moved here in September 1979. The collapsible stacks had to be removed so that the boat could slip under electric lines. A series of tugboat operators had to be hired to push the boat upstream on its 17-day trip from Gasconace, Missouri. The starboard paddlewheel and fifteen feet of starboard deck had to be removed so that the ship, originally 85-feet wide, could squeak through the 75-foot opening of the floodgates of the Ice Harbor. (4)

The enormous paddlewheel that had to be removed to move the William M. Black into the Ice Harbor.

Since the 25.5-foot diameter wheel had been removed from the boat in 1979, the full weight of the steel shaft and crank rested on the wooden buckets that were in danger of deterioration. In 1989 donations from the Dubuque Greyhound Park (now DUBUQUE GREYHOUND PARK AND CASINO), Newt Marine and other Dubuque businesses were used to display the 32-ton starboard paddlewheel on an A-frame, specially designed and built for the purpose. Dubuque Greyhound Park provided a grant to raise the wheel and support it by its original shaft. Bradley Iron Works supplied the steel, Newt Marine donated the labor and materials, and concrete was given by the Molo Company. (Photo Credit: www.ia-bednbreakfast-inns.com)

In addition to being a tourist site, the Black could be rented for overnight lodging as a bed and breakfast.

In 2016 the museum received a $66,999 grant from the National Park Service for a lead-paint-abatement project on the 277-foot dredge. Museum officials partnered with the City of Dubuque and the Office of Historic Preservation Office to hire qualified personnel for the project. Once the lead-based paint was removed, a new coat of paint was applied and the exhibit, which once was the entire focus of the riverfront museum, was expected to be open for visitors in late May, 2020. (5)





1. Dickel, Dean. "Black Designated National Historic Landmark," Telegraph Herald, May 30, 1993, p. 3A

2. Ibid.

3. Thimmesch, Nicholas. "How Dubuque 'Won' a Steamboat," Telegraph Herald, October 4, 1979, p. 3

4. Ibid.

5. Mehl, Annie, "Face-Lift for William M. Black," Telegraph Herald, May 22, 2020, p. 1A




Krista Roa