I’ve had the opportunity to travel the United States and Europe pretty extensively, but landing on my short list of “cities to visit” for quite some time has been one of my home state’s treasures – Dubuque, Iowa. I’ve heard nothing but praise about this Mississippi River community, so the Good family finally packed up the car for a quick trek to “The Masterpiece on the Mississippi” over Memorial Day weekend.
Dubuque lies at the junction of three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, a region locally known as the Tri-State Area. The first permanent settler in what is now Dubuque was a Quebecois pioneer, Julien Dubuque, who arrived in 1785. In 1788, he received permission from the Spanish government and the local Fox tribe of American Indians to mine the area’s rich lead deposits. Tributes to Julien Dubuque can be found all over the city, including this fun mural. He looks like one cool dude!
A few fun facts about Dubuque:
- Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa
- Motto – “The Masterpiece on the Mississippi”
- Fast Company magazine named Dubuque one of the 10 smartest cities on the planet
- In 2010, Forbes magazine selected Dubuque as the best small city to raise a family in the country
- 53% of Dubuque’s population is Catholic
- Dubuque is home to Loras College, the University of Dubuque and Clarke University, amongst other institutions of higher education.
- Dubuque claims the world’s shortest and steepest elevator
- Dubuque’s courthouse is the only one in Iowa with a gold-leaf dome
- In 2006, Money Magazine named Dubuque as having the shortest commute time of any city in the nation at only 11.8 minutes
- Dubuque is captured in three motion pictures: F.I.S.T., Take This Job and Shove It, and scenes from Field of Dreams
When I plan to visit cities, I spend many hours researching the things that make any one community unique. In my research, one property kept catching my eye as a place to utilize as our launchpad (aka – place to stay). The Hotel Julien Dubuque, a grand hotel right in the heart of downtown was kind enough to host the family for the weekend, and it did not disappoint.
Upon entering the Hotel, it’s tough to miss its beauty. In 1839, travelers’ first sight as they crossed the Mississippi River into Dubuque was a hotel building on the corner of 2nd and Main. This old “Julien Hotel” survived a fire, hosted famous guests such as Abraham Lincoln, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Mark Twain, gained notoriety thanks to Al Capone.
Of all the personages said to have stayed in the Hotel Julien, none has aroused more curiosity and speculation than the notorious Chicago gangster AI Capone. Local lore alleges that when things got “hot” in Chicago, Capone would travel with his entourage to Dubuque, hiding out in the Hotel Julien. He reportedly made use of a nearby underground garage to hide his cars and further conceal his presence in Dubuque. Some say he even owned the hotel at one point. What a cool story! The hotel takes pride in its history and maintains the Capone Suite within its walls.
While we didn’t stay in the Capone Suite, we were able to stay on the eighth (and top) floor. History states that Al Capone occupied the entire eighth floor when he stayed in the hotel, because he would have a bird’s eye view from many directions. We greatly enjoyed the magnificent views that an eighth floor room at the hotel provides.
On Monday morning, I set out for my run through the city. I wanted to incorporate the city’s history, great views, and a route that passed many landmarks and places of interest. Iowa received a ton of rain throughout Memorial Day weekend, but luckily, the rain held off on Monday morning during my run. The fog was pretty thick, but the run was amazing. Tillie and Cal dropped me off at my starting point, the Julien Dubuque Monument. The Monument sits within the Mines of Spain state recreational area and provides for some awesome views of Dubuque and the Mississippi River.
Within the monument is Julien Dubuque’s grave. Pretty neat. After thanking Julien for bringing this wonderful area to the world’s attention, I set off for my run.
Now, any run that starts off with the following scenery is a good run in my book.
After tackling the hills around the Mines of Spain, I made my way back downtown to the hotel to meet up with Tillie and Cal. From the hotel, our next stop was the Dubuque riverfront, home to many of its notable attractions. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and is home to an aquarium featuring wildlife representative of that found in the Mississippi River, including giant catfish, sturgeon, ducks, frogs, turtles, and more.
Nearby, is the main entrance to the Port of Dubuque.
In the Port area, you can also find a familiar company – The McGraw-Hill Companies. Odds are, many of the textbooks that you utilized in school were published by McGraw-Hill.
The Shot Tower in Dubuque is one of the last remaining shot towers in the United States. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a recognized symbol of the city. The tower was built in 1856 to provide lead shot for the military. The invention of the shot tower enabled economical production of many nearly perfect lead spheres of the right size to fit in a musket. To make the shot, molten lead was poured through a grate at the top of the tower. The droplets that fell from the grate were of relatively uniform size, and the fall provided enough time for the liquid-metal droplet to form into a sphere before landing in the water below. The water cooled the lead to its solid state, retaining the spherical shape.
From Shot Tower, we headed back towards downtown and came across the Dubuque County Courthouse. What a structure! We Iowans love our gold-domed buildings (see our state capitol), but as mentioned earlier, Dubuque’s courthouse is the only one in Iowa with a gold-leaf dome.
Near the courthouse, we found another great building, Dubuque’s Grand Opera House.
We ventured back over to Main Street and made the climb (whew) to Loras College, a four-year Catholic college with an enrollment of approximately 1,610 students. Did you know that CBS Sportscaster Greg Gumbel went to school here?
Loras College is home to the Duhawks.
We ran back down the hill and back towards the hotel. At the Dubuque Museum of Art, we ran into some familiar faces. Grant Wood’s American Gothic holds a special place in my family’s heart. My great great grandparents lived in the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, when Wood painted American Gothic. I have fun seeking out my two friends wherever I go. This was definitely the largest depiction of the couple that I have ever seen!
Our last stop on the run was at one of Dubuque’s many grand churches. Religion is an important piece of Dubuque life, and the city’s churches are amazing.
The three of us returned to the hotel, took Cal swimming for a bit, showered and packed up, and visited one last stop before we headed west. The Fenelon Place Elevator is claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world, and it has one awesome story. In 1882, Dubuque was an hour and a half town – at noon everything shut down for an hour and a half when everyone went home to dinner. Mr. J. K. Graves, a former mayor, former State Senator, also promoter of mines and a banker lived on top of the bluffs and worked at the bottom. Unfortunately, he had to spend half an hour driving his horse and buggy round the bluff to get to the top and another half an hour to return downtown, even though his bank was only two and a half blocks away. Mr. Graves liked to take half an hour for his dinner, then a half an hour nap, but this was impossible because of the long buggy ride. So he found the solution by building the elevator! Ingenuity at its finest!
We made some friends from New York on the small elevator ride up the hill and grabbed a quick pic. This is Cal about 10 minutes prior to a two-hour nap. He was pooped but was a trooper!
A steep ride!
We took one final picture to cap off a wonderful few days in Dubuque, Iowa. Once again, a big thanks goes to Dwight and the staff at the Hotel Julien Dubuque as well as the friendly folks at Dubuque’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. You all are awesome!
Off the Beaten Path
On the way to and back from Dubuque, we stopped to experience a few of the area’s hidden treasurers.
Sykora Bakery – Czech Village, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids is an Iowa city that is home to thousands of Czech, Moravian and Slovak immigrants and their descendants since the turn of the Century. We had to stop to enjoy a delicious kolache at the Sykora Bakery. Mmmmm!
Anamosa State Penitentiary – Anamosa, Iowa
Anamosa State Penitentiary is a maximum-security penitentiary prison for men in Anamosa, Iowa. Currently the penitentiary is home to approximately 1,080 inmates with another 175 in segregation and has 357 staff members. Intimidation in full force.
The Grant Wood Scenic Byway – Eastern Iowa
The Grant Wood Scenic Byway is a symbol of the American heartland. Named for 1930’s Iowa artist, the byway is a tribute to Grant Wood’s skill in reproducing a place and a culture through his art. The works of Grant Wood are well known. Travel the Grant Wood Byway, and you will see where he found his inspiration for such artwork as “American Gothic,” “Stone City,” and other legendary pieces.
Main Street – Galena, Illinois
Twenty minutes from Dubuque, Galena has one of the neatest main streets you will ever see. We enjoyed dinner and drinks on Sunday evening at Galena Brewing Company.
Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa
Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa. For any baseball fan, Field of Dreams is a must. The farmhouse and field sit as it was seen in the movie and is open to take a few ground balls and even hear a few voices. They built it, and we came.