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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.


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Photo courtesy: Larry Friedman
Official stationery of the Diamond Jo Line.
Book given to passengers so that they could collect signatures of other passengers as a memento. Photo courtesy: Dave Thomson Collection. Online: http://steamboats.com/museum/davet-illustrationsdiamondjo.html
Advertisement. Photo courtesy: Dave Thomson Collection. Online: http://steamboats.com/museum/davet-illustrationsdiamondjo.html
Book given to passengers so that they could collect signatures of other passengers as a memento. Photo courtesy: Dave Thomson Collection. Online: http://steamboats.com/museum/davet-illustrationsdiamondjo.html

DIAMOND JO LINE. In December 1977, the former Diamond Jo Boat Store and Office, now property of INLAND MOLASSES COMPANY at Jones and Terminal STREETS, was added to the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. The building, which once had an office at the end facing the river and a steamboat warehouse behind it, is the only remaining building in Dubuque traceable to one of America's great steamboat companies. The office had previously been located at Fulton, Illinois. Reynolds, who lived in McGregor, believed the new office would make his travel easier and it was located in a thriving community. (1)

Reynolds had a history of making wise decisions. He married Mary Morton while operating a general store in Rockland, New York. His marriage provided him with a wealthy father-in-law who helped him purchase a custom flour and feed mill. This proved profitable, until it was destroyed by fire. He attempted to form a stock company to build a new mill. When his investors found he was planning to install the newest and most expensive equipment, they backed out. Reynolds and his father-in-law them purchased the stock, probably at a steep discount, and turned the mill into one of the most profitable in the area. His venture in the tannery business was so profitable that he sold out and moved to Chicago. (2)

The familiar Diamond Jo sign on the steamboat Quincy. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In 1855 he and his wife, Mary E. (Morton), established a new tannery. Customarily, he supplied his business with hides and furs by touring Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Originally, he addressed his shipments to himself as J. Reynolds. But when he discovered that Chicago had another J. Reynolds, he developed his distinctive trademark of a diamond shape enclosing his nickname "Jo." (3)

His career change to wheat dealer for the Chicago market prompted him in 1860 to move to McGregor, Iowa, a major wheat market. To establish an efficient purchasing and shipping system, he invested in railroad line elevators in Iowa and Minnesota and entered steamboating to collect wheat along portions of the upper Mississippi. (4)

He had his first steamboat built at Lansing, Iowa, in 1862, but generally until 1868 he paid other boatmen to transport his wheat. Before he had operated "The Lansing" for long, the Minnesota Packet Company operating between Dubuque and St. Paul convinced Reynolds to sell them the boat while promising him that his business would be treated fairly. Before the end of the season, he found these promises to be worthless. (5)

Reynolds retaliated during the winter of 1862-1863 by constructing the steamer "Diamond Jo" and the barges "Fleming" and "Conger." (6) Once again the packet company convinced him to sell. This time he found the agreement workable until his business increased to the point that he again felt he needed his own boats. (7) Over a period of years, Reynolds purchased the twin-screw propeller, "John C. Gault" and later a stern-wheeler known as the "Ida Fulton." He repurchased the "Diamond Jo" and the two barges and bought the "Imperial" and other barges from John Robinson of Winona, Minnesota and the "Pittsburg," (renamed "Dubuque") and "Gem City" (renamed "Quincy) from companies on the Ohio River. Reynolds also chartered the "Bannock City," "Lady Pike," and "John C. Chambers." (8) He reentered steamboating by forming the Chicago, Fulton, and River Line. (9) The company's four steamers, including the Diamond Jo, and accompanying barges operated in connection with the Chicago and North Western Railroad out of Fulton, Illinois. The two firms arranged for freight exchanges to supply wheat to the Chicago market and deliver a variety of goods shipped westward by the railroad.

While based at Fulton, Reynolds's line became known as the Diamond Jo. However, the name was not formalized until the incorporation of the Diamond Jo Line in 1883.

On February 12, 1874 William E. WELLINGTON, representing the company, met with the mayor, a number of councilmen, and several businessmen to discuss conditions under which the firm's headquarters would be moved to Dubuque. (10) There were concessions made to the company from the city government to encourage the relocation. These concessions included: (11)

         allowing a wharf boat in front of the lower levee where
            it is paved and north of any wharf boat that could
            later be placed along the levee for a term of five
         use of a portion of the lower levee not exceeding 150
            feet front for a coal yard,
         use of 500 feet front of the outer levee at the foot
            of Third Street and running north for a boatyard,
         exempt from wharfage (taxes) all boats, barges, and
            vessels of every kind owned by the company so long
            as the company complies with the terms of the
            contract and maintains its headquarters in the city
            for a period of ten years

In 1876 this contract between the company and the city came under review. The committee on harbors found that the company had not moved the boatyard, general office, and repair and construction shops to Dubuque within four months of the signing of the contract and that the wharf boat of the company had not been kept open at nights and on Sundays for the use of the public to pass over to steamers of any other line. For these reasons, the council rescinded the contract. (12)

In 1878 the Diamond Jo Company spent about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and located permanently at EAGLE POINT where the DIAMOND JO BOATYARD was established. Seventy-eight men were employed in January, 1880. (13) In that year, the company was the largest single employer in Dubuque. (14) With seventy-five men employed in the boatyard, the company paid wages from $800 to $1,000 per week. In addition, the purchase of material in Dubuque added an estimated $150,000 to the local economy. (15)

The boatyard built and repaired Reynolds's boats as well as those of other upper Mississippi operators. In an article published by the Dubuque Herald in January 1880, the reporter saw the following being repaired: (16)

          Annie Girdon-------Knapp, Stout and Company
          Louisville---------Knapp, Stout and Company
          Helen Mar----------Knapp, Stout and Company
          Pete Wilson--------Knapp, Stout and Company
          L. W. Barden-------unknown owner
          Josie--------------unknown owner

Working together, the Diamond Jo Company built the upper portions of boats and the IOWA IRON WORKS constructed the iron and steel sections.

Financial difficulties of the rival Keokuk Northern Line Packet Company enabled the efficient Reynolds to expand. In 1879 Diamond Jo boats began offering St. Paul-St. Louis service. On April 19, 1895 the Diamond Jo Line filed a complaint with the Iowa railroad commissioners. It charged that the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad company was discriminating by refusing to receive freight from its boats, consigned to points on the line of said company's railroad, unless the charges on such consignments were paid in advance. After deliberating, the commissioners found in favor of the steamship line. (17) Reynolds, however, recognized that the railroads held the advantage of being able to transport freight year-round. He became phasing the company out of the freight business.

In the 1880s the most famous Diamond Jo vessels, such as the Mary Morton, were luxurious passenger boats. When the successor of the Keokuk Northern ceased operating in 1890, the Diamond Jo Line was the only remaining organized steamboat company between St. Louis and St. Paul. (18) Reynolds practiced selling his boats before they lost their resale value and he only built the number of boats he required. He never over-expanded. (19)

In 1891 wishing to replace its present wharfboat, officials of the company approached the city council asking for rights on the levee to construct a warehouse. (20) The council approved the request only to have it vetoed by Mayor Charles J. W. SAUNDERS. The council then passed the measure over the veto. The ordinance in its entirety was published in the paper on January 27, 1892. (21)

In 1895 the company announced that it would move its headquarters to St. Louis so that all officials could be in one location. The company would maintain its boat-store house in Dubuque, a coal yard in East Dubuque, and the boatyard at EAGLE POINT. (22) The same year, the company began a major designing of their ships to manage lower water levels. As an example, the "Pittsburgh" was being constructed 2.5 feet wider to lighten the load and allow greater speed. (23)

The Diamond Jo Line passed to his widow, and after her death on August 2, 1895, to a group headed by her brother, Jay. In 1897 the warehouse at the corner of Jones and the levee was purchased by Col. Jay Morton, president of the Diamond Jo Line from Bart E. LINEHAN. The company had occupied the building for the past year. (24)

Rumors of a sale of the company swirled around Dubuque in 1900. The Cincinnati Enquirer claimed that the steamers would be sold after the exposition scheduled for St. Louis. The paper went on to state that with the government spending millions of dollars improving the Upper Mississippi, the waterway after 1901 would be used solely by barges and raft traffic. (25)

The report of a sale had to wait eleven years to become true. On February 3, 1911 the entire company was sold to the STRECKFUS STEAMBOAT LINE. (26) For $200,000 the Streckfus Company obtained the steamers St. Paul, Quincy, Dubuque and Sidney. In addition it received the wharves, warehouses and boatyards of the company. (27)

In 1938 Streckfus company officials announced that the palatial J. S. "De Luxe", the original "Quincy," "Washington," and "Sidney," which had been manufactured by the Diamond Jo Line, would be scrapped. At first captained by John F. KILLEEN, the ship was used as a passenger and freight steamer between St. Louis and New Orleans. When it was rebuilt as an excursion steamer in 1919, a new superstructure and hull were constructed at a cost estimated at $1 million. As the "Washington," the ship had been used primarily on the Ohio River. Renamed the "Sidney," it was returned to the Mississippi River and occasionally was seen in Dubuque. (28)

The "Dubuque." Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The main salon on the "Dubuque.". Photo courtesy:http://www.riverboatdaves.com/postcards/d/dubuque/dubuque.html
The side deck on the "Dubuque.". Photo courtesy:http://www.riverboatdaves.com/postcards/d/dubuque/dubuque.html
Diamond Jo warehouse. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Boats Constructed: (29)

1864-83, DIAMOND JO. At one point she was sold to a competitor, then in 1868, repurchased. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_D

1867, JOHN C. GAULT, propeller driven towboat.

186?9?, early spring?,-72, LADY PIKE

1869, July, Chartered STERLING to help with enormous work load.

1867-73, The line added a boat named IMPERIAL. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_I
1867-70, the JEANETTE ROBERTS. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_J

1871, Chartered briefly, BANNOCK CITY

1873-81, IMPERIAL a powerful towboat

1873, Built and operated JOSIE.. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_J
1878-99, Built and operated JOSEPHINE. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_J
1879, LIBBY CONGER, passengers and freight only. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_L
1880-87, Built and operated MARY MORTON. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_M
1883-86, ST. PAUL. Observers watch the St. Paul, another ship of the Diamond Jo Line. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

189?-1901 Washington

1896-1901, DUBUQUE. Built in 1895. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Inland_Riverboats_-_D

Later renamed "Washington," "Sidney," and J.S./Deluxe"

1886 promotional leaflet
Pen and ink drawings of life aboard the steamboat in 1886
Advertisement for a tour on the Diamond Jo Line.
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Complimentary pass. Photo courtesy: Bill Pollard




1. Cueva, Ivonne, "The Diamond Jo Line Was a Mighty Good Line," Telegraph Herald, December 11, 1977, p. 7

2. Ibid.

3. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008

4. Ibid.

5. "Sale of Diamond Jo Line; $200,000," Dubuque Herald, February 12, 1911, p. 8

6. "Dubuque, A Boat Building Center," Telegraph Herald, August 21, 1910 Part II, p. 1

7. "Sale of Diamond Jo..."

8. Ibid.

9. Hudson, et al.

10. "To Be or Not to Be," Dubuque Herald, February 14, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740214&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, February 21, 1874, p. 2

12. "Municipal," Dubuque Herald, May 5, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760505&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. Oldt, Franklin. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880. 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-26-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

14. "Diamond Jo," Dubuque Herald, January 30, 1880, p. 5

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. "Discrimination," The Herald, July 14, 1889, p. 8

18. Hudson et al.

19. Cueva

20. "Wants a Warehouse," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 3, 1891, p. 4

21. "An Ordinance," The Herald, January 27 1892, p. 2

22. "Removed to St. Louis," Dubuque Herald, April 19, 1895, p. 8

23. "The Diamond Jo Boats," Dubuque Herald, April 22, 1895, p. 5

24. "Diamond Jo Warehouse," The Dubuque Herald, November 28, 1897, p. 5

25. "May Sell the Packets," The Dubuque Herald, July 14, 1900, p. 8

26. "Diamond Jo Line Boats are Sold," Dubuque Herald, February 3, 1911

27. "Sale of Diamond Jo Line..."

28. "Steamer 'J. S.' to be Scrapped," Telegraph-Herald, December 20, 1938, p. 9

29. Riverboat Dave's. "Riverboat Companies and Owners," Online: http://www.riverboatdaves.com/owners/d.html