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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.”
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
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Advertisement for the Novelty Iron Works circa 1883. Photo courtesy: William K. Hammel
Historic poster of the company. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

NOVELTY IRON WORKS. Succeeding J. L. DICKINSON & CO., the Novelty Iron Works occupied an area bounded by 10th and 11th STREETS east of Washington Street. The company was incorporated on December 23, 1875. (1)

Novelty Iron began business on January 1, 1876 with a capital of $60,000 and officers including C.S. Burt, president; George O. Cowles, secretary and treasurer; and J.L. DICKINSON, superintendent. (2) The usual workforce of fifty men produced machinery for flour mills, saw mills, steam engines, water wheels, and well-drilling machines. Shipments reached as far west as California.

In April 1880, Dickinson, J. W. Parker, and A. J. Patch who now constituted the company moved the business to Jackson Street where they leased the planing mill and sash and door factory of A. Kelser. Dickinson was in charge of the planing department while the other two men directed manufacturing. (3) Monthly payrolls in 1880 reached $1,800.

In September 1892 the Dubuque Daily Herald ran a short article on the performance of shingle machines made by the company. One machine could produce 21 per second, 4.5 million shingles in a week, and 180 million annually. The machines were sold in a territory from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast and exported to Mexico, South America, Germany and New Zealand. (4)

Many discussions were held in January 1893 to buy the company and convert it to the production of Corliss engines capable of producing 100,000 horse power and other massive machinery along with the current production. The patent on Corliss engines had expired making its production open to any company. (5) In 1895 it became the manufacturer of products sold by the IOWA GASOLINE FIRE ENGINE COMPANY. (6)

The building was used by EAGLE WINDOW AND DOOR from the 1950s to around 2000. In 2004 the building was the home of Architectural Salvage and Antiques. In 2006 it became Restoration Warehouse. (7)

In 2005 developer Bob Johnson purchased the building assisted with the city's development plans as part of the MILLWORK DISTRICT REVITALIZATION. Repeating the theme of the Caradco Building, the Novelty Iron Works building was planned as a mixed-use commercial and residential center. The first phase of development planned for completion in the fall of 2013 was the construction of 76 apartments units and about half of the commercial space. The Gym was the building's first commercial tenant. Nearly all of the Novelty Iron Works apartments were scheduled to be market-rate with one, two or three-bedroom units available.

Novelty Iron Works was the second major residential rehab project in the Millwork District following Caradco Lofts located in the Schmid Innovation Center which opened to renters in 2012. In May 28, 2015, the renovated Novelty Iron Works celebrated its grand opening. Once completed, the building was scheduled to offer 99 rental units and retail space for more than a dozen business tenants. At the time of the grand opening, construction crews had completed seventy-five units. Approximately 65% of these units had been leased and nearly 40 of the units were occupied. The second phase of the project was construction of 23 additional rental units and the installation of retail space. (8)

In 2010 the Restoration Warehouse sign still advertised its location on the first and second floors of the former Novelty Iron Works building.
Renovation of the Novelty Iron Works building is shown with the windows in 2010.
In August, 2010 work was just beginning on units which were eventually planned to include apartments, condos, and lofts built around a central courtyard.
Portable hitching post weighing several pounds. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey



1. "Novelty Iron Works," Dubuque Herald, December 25, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751225&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. "New Firm," Dubuque Herald, April 25, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800425&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "Sold the World Over," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 16, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920916&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "To Make Corliss Engines," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 8 1893, p. 4

6. "New Company," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 9, 1895, p. 8

7. Swenson, Jim, "4 Millwork District Buildings Represent Rebirth," Telegraph Herald, October 27, 2015, p. 1

8. Montgomery, Jeff. "Novelty Iron Works 'Great Amenity' for Millwork District," Telegraph Herald, May 29, 2015, p. 5A