"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
Revision as of 04:39, 18 December 2013 by Randylyon (talk | contribs)
Jump to navigationJump to search
Dubuque's Town Clock as it originally appeared.
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

TOWN CLOCK. The town clock has been a prominent landmark of Dubuque since 1864. A campaign for subscriptions for its purchase was successfully led by Dubuque physician and surgeon, Asa HORR. (1) Mr. and Mrs. George Wood gave the city a perpetual lease to Lot 54, the site of the JOHN BELL AND COMPANY store, a building they owned on the west side of Main Street between Eighth and Ninth STREETS. The understanding was that the site would be used for the clock. (2)

The cost of the clock and mounting it on the building ran up to $2,000. The tower in which it was hung was designed by William Longhurst of Chicago for $1,000. The clock, bought from Naylor & Company of New York, was said at the time to be the most accurate town clock in the United States. The clock's striking gong weighed one ton, the bell weighed a half ton, and the face, hands and mechanism added an additional four hundred pounds. The clock began operating in November, 1864.

The question of who owned the clock was settled on December 11, 1865. Everyone who had subscribed $25.00 or more became a member of the Dubuque Town Clock Company. (3)

About five o'clock on the afternoon of May 25, 1872, workmen nearby noticed cracks appearing in the walls of the Town Clock building. Shouting an alarm, they rushed for cover as the belfry swayed before crashing to the ground. A child, Mrs. Herman Ellwanger, and her sister Miss Street were inside the building as the falling clock demolished the store. (4) The child died instantly while the women died within hours of their injuries. (5) One eyewitness stated that workmen had undermined the foundation of the building which appeared to be constructed on a layer of sand. (6) It was that the foundation of the Bell Building was insufficient to hold the clock's weight. The Bell Building suffered damage estimated to be as much as $20.000. (7)

Architect Fridolin HEER drew plans for a new brick building; on Apri1 17, 1873, a new clock costing $5,309.45 graced the downtown area. (8) The clock operated by weights which hung from chains within shafts running to the basement of the building. Two strong boys were hired to wind up the weights--a task that took an hour and thirty minutes to operate the clock for a week. A motor to wind the chains replaced the two boys in 1918. (9) In 1887 the new building was the home of SULLIVAN AND STAMPFER, a dry goods store, which advertised itself as "under the Town Clock." (10)

In 1923 the financial cost estimated at between $4,000 and $5,000 of repairing the tower led the city council to decide to have the clock removed. This action was rescinded when a poll conducted by the Times Journal found that the citizens wanted the clock maintained. The repairs were made. In 1927 a new Seth Thomas mechanism was added. The clock was electrified by INTERSTATE POWER COMPANY and synchronized by Western Union. (11)

This iconic photograph of the relocation of the townclock was taken by James SHAFFER and used as a cover for his memorable and photo-laden book with John TIGGES

During urban renewal in the 1970s, the clock was removed from the building and stored until it was relocated to Seventh and Main in TOWN CLOCK PLAZA. (12)

In 2001 with the reopening of Main Street to traffic, the question arose whether to move the clock from its tower to the top of the Town Clock Building at 835 Town Clock Plaza. On August 20, 2001 the city council voted 6-1 to leave the clock where it was and direct traffic around it. (13)



1. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque,Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History--Loras College, 2000, p. 30

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., p. 31

4. "Mason City Visitor Saw Crash of Town Clock Here in 1872," Telegraph Herald, August 21, 1924, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=gTFFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hbsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3040,2257734&dq=town+clock+dubuque&hl=en

5. "Old Town Clock Building Destroyed May 25, 1872," Telegraph Herald, June 27, 1915, p. 36, Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=PaFdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=81wNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2380,714590&dq=town+clock+dubuque&hl=en

6. "Pioneer Citizens Talks About Early Days; Once Town Clock Fell From Tower Into Street," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, March 8, 1931, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=icBFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jr0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=2881,4718299&dq=town+clock+dubuque&hl=en

7. Kruse, Len., p. 33

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. "Sullivan and Stampfer" advertisement, Dubuque Daily Herald, July 14, 1887, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YXhFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=v7wMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6574,236044&dq=dubuque+town+clock&hl=en

11. Kruse, Len., p. 34

12. Ibid.

13. "Council Votes Not to Move Town Clock," Telegraph Herald, August 26, 2001, p. 16, Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EwpaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=b0sNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4793,4278359&dq=dubuque+town+clock&hl=en

Commemorative coin sales helped raise money. Photo courtesy: Mark Beall
Photo courtesy: Mark Beall

On July 16, 1970 the "Your Town Clock Committee" was organized with the goal of relocating the Town Clock to the Town Clock Square. The city council approved the action that was carried out with $70,000 raised through voluntary contributions in fourteen months.

Photo courtesy: City of Dubuque

The thirteen-ton "tower" was brought to the site Friday, February 12, 1971, where it was bolted to the four-column concrete pedestal. The four "faces" of the clock, weighing nine tons, were put into place on February 16 followed by the cupola weighing seven tons. The completely assembled clock stands about two feet taller than it did at its former location at 825 Main Street when it stood 108 feet above street level on a three-story building.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

The TOWN CLOCK PLAZA, with its Town Clock, was formally dedicated on Friday, August 3, 1971, by Dubuque MAYOR Dr. Gaylord M. COUCHMAN and George W. Romney, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Concern about VIBRATIONS caused by loud music and hundreds of dancers led to a feature story in the TELEGRAPH HERALD in 1989. City officials stated their confidence in the structural soundness of the tower. The Durrant Architects of Dubuque designed the pre-cast four-column pedestal that supports the clock since its relocation.



Dubuque Folklore. American Trust and Savings Bank. 1976

175 Years, Volume 2, "A Tour of Dubuque's Landmarks," Telegraph Herald, June 23, 2008