Dubuque County, Iowa
History Directory


Dubuque Improvement Company



Dubuque Improvement Company, Dubuque Co., Iowa, 1857
Old Note Recalls 1857 Boom
by Irvin Duddleson

The note reproduced above, issued on Dec. 11, 1857, was turned up by a Dubuquer in search through his attic. A check of county histories shows that the company was organized on Jan. 23, 1857, and was engaged in the improvement of river property here, and the building of nine blocks of levees.

Those were the boom years in Dubuque - 1856 and 1857. This organization was incorporated as the Dubuque Central Improvement Company, with capital of $2,100,000.

The incorporators, whose names appear on the back of the note, were Jesse P. Farley, Franklin V. Goodrich, Austin J. Goss, Robert G. Waples, Christopher Pelan, Robert M. Walmsley, Alexander Anderson and Frederick E. Bissell.

Signatures on the face of the note are those of Mr. Goodrich, as president, and Mr. Walmsley, as secretary. H.A. Littleton was the registrar for the county.

In searching for facts about the Dubuque Improvement Company, other interesting observations about the growth and development of the city were revealed.

One man, in a paper of that time, reported purchase of a piece of property in 1856 for $170 and the sale of the same property in 1857 for $1,000. Two lots at the corner of Seventh and Iowa streets were sold for $30,000.

In August, 1857, a horse railroad was projected from Dubuque through Couler Valley.

The Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb, gave the contract for the new customs house and postoffice to John Bastate and Jacob Fonts on their low bid of $87,334.50.

The Dubuque Times was first issued June 15, 1857, by a corporation consisting of 24 prominent Republicans. J.P. Farley was president; D.N. Cooley, secretary; M. Mobley, treasurer, and George G. Lyon, editor. The object was to establish a permanent Republican paper.

On Feb. 10, 1857, the new Odd Fellows' building at the corner of Eighth and Bluff streets, collapsed, the roof dropping and part of the wall falling out, crushing Captain S.C Foss and his wife, who lived in the adjoining residence. Captain Foss was a soldier of the War of 1812, and was one of the famous Dartmouth prisoners.

In October, 1857, the census of the city was taken, showing a population of 15,957.

During the years 1856 and 1857 nearly a thousand buildings were constructed here. Included in this boom was the jail, Second Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. Raphael's Catholic Church, Tremont Hotel, Lorimier Hotel, the Congregational Church, and the County Poorhouse.

The Express and Herald, a forerunner of The Telegraph-Herald, said on March 18, 1857: "It is astonishing with what rapidity frame tenements and buildings of different character are going up. We remarked a week or more ago that the season had started, but we did not dream of anything like the magical springing up of structures that the past few days have brought forth."

It was on Jan. 1, 1858, that The Express and Herald said: "We are the most important point on the Upper Mississippi River, a point which has given our city the souriquet of 'Key City.' As the key, she commands the whole of Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota."

Mayor Hetherington on taking office in April, 1858, reported that he had taken the city census in 1852, and at that time the population was 4,012. The population was growing at the rate of 30 per cent, he added, and the "population of the city is now 17,000." In his financial report of the city he said: "The city council has expended $350,000, while the revenue has been only $138,000."

~Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Sunday morning edition, January 24, 1943.


~transcribed and contributed by Sharyl Ferrall 


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