Dubuque, Iowa

Ben Sheehy was born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1968. Dubuque is a city located along the Mississippi. With a population of approximately 60,000 people, it is the tenth-largest city in Iowa. Nicknamed the “Masterpiece of the Mississippi” or “The Key City,” Dubuque is one of the only cities in Iowa to have hills and has become a major tourist attraction due to its unique architecture.

After the French were defeated in the Seven Years’ War, Spain took over the Louisiana Territory to the west of the Mississippi. Pioneer Julien Dubuque arrived in 1785 and was the area’s first settler. By 1788, Julien Dubuque began mining the lead deposits in the area. But in 1800, control of the area (and thus, Julien Dubuque’s mines) shifted back to France and then the United States. Although Julien Dubuque passed away in 1810, many recognized the value that these lead mines possessed – as a result, the area attracted a number of pioneers and settlers.

Ben Sheehy was born in Dubuque, Iowa - a city located along the Mississippi River. His mother still lives in Dubuque.
Ben Sheehy was born in Dubuque, Iowa – a city located along the Mississippi River. His mother still lives in Dubuque.

It wasn’t until 1833 that the city was officially chartered. Designated as the Iowa Territory, the lead resources were soon exhausted; other industries, however, began popping up throughout the region. The timber industry began to expand due to nearby forests in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Millworking soon swept through the area as well, along with boat building, brewing and the railroad industry.

Due to the rise in manufacturing, many poor German and Irish immigrants began moving into the area between 1850 and the early 1900s. During the early part of the 20th century Dubuque emerged as the site of Adams-Farwell, an early automobile company.

Industrial activity declined in the 1990s and the economy became more and more diverse. Today, the area is dominated by tourism, publishing and high technology. Over 1.5 million tourists visit the city annually.

Historic Places in Dubuque

The Fourth Street Elevator is located in Dubuque, Iowa; it is the shortest and steepest railroad ever.
The Fourth Street Elevator is located in Dubuque, Iowa; it is the shortest and steepest railroad ever. Photo credit: photolibrarian

Dubuque has several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the most iconic is the Fourth Street Elevator. Recognized as the shortest and steepest railroad ever, the Fourth Street Elevator is a downtown railroad that takes passengers to the top (or bottom) of a large hill. Built in 1882, the railroad is only 296 feet long and has a vertical elevation of 98 feet.

The Dubuque County Courthouse, which was built in 1891, dominates the landscape downtown. It features Beaux-Arts architecture, a neoclassical style that was taught in Paris, France. The Dubuque County Jail, which sits adjacent to the courthouse, is a National Historic Landmark. The jail was completed in 1858 and was built with blue limestone.

The Julien Dubuque Bridge and the Shot Tower are also National Historic Landmarks. The Shot Tower is one of the last remaining shot towers in the United States. It was built in 1856 to provide lead shot for the military.