City of Dubuque on the Mississippi

By Bruce Claflin, Scuttlebutt Magazine

The story of Dubuque Iowa is not an unusual one in these parts. It was an area rich in many ways and settlers came to take advantage of those riches. Julien Dubuque is said to be the first to permanently settle here in 1785. His work as a fur trader allowed him the opportunity to establish a friendship and earn the respect of the indigenous Mesquakie people. The Mesquakie led Dubuque to large lead deposits that were located in the region. Since Dubuque was well aware of the European appetite for lead, he and the Mesquakie were soon mining the ore found there. Julien Dubuque successfully mined the ore there until his death in 1810. A monument to Dubuque is still a very popular attraction in this city and can be easily spotted by those traveling through the area by water.

The Black Hawk treaty of 1833 opened the area west of the Mississippi River to settlement, and Dubuque was chartered in 1837 making it Iowa’s oldest city. Drawn by its proximity to the River, settlers came to find an abundance of rich land and resources. Like many of our ‘River’ communities, the settlers were mostly Irish and German immigrants drawn to the promise of a better life. Dubuque became known as the ‘Key City’ because it was the place that opened the door to dreams of a better life for many. The area would become chiefly known as a place to mine lead and trade fur, but as it grew boat building, logging, milling, and button making all rose to great prominence. Settlement fueled by opportunity and an accessibility to the river as a highway helped the city of Dubuque become the regional commercial capital for the Tri-State area that it is today.

When you have a history as long as the City of Dubuque’s, you most certainly will have to deal with your share of ups and downs along the way. Such is the case for this resilient city.
Dubuque has earned its way to the title of ‘Masterpiece on the Mississippi’. The city has survived devastating floods and all of the down business cycles that one City can endure, but endure it has. During the 1980’s, the city dealt with high unemployment, an abandonment of downtown business, and an exodus of citizens from the city and the state. What followed is another great story of a city returning to its roots, and embracing its past.

Port of Dubuque Ship’s Store

In the 1990’s and struggling with economic, environmental, and cultural issues, city leaders sought ways to reconnect the city with the river that was once at the center of its beginnings.

One of the biggest challenges for area leaders was how to once again connect citizens to the river that inspired the settlement of their community. The riverfront that was once an epicenter of the city was plagued by environmental issues, undervalued property, and a mix of heavy industrial uses adjacent to downtown. In the late 1990s, the Dubuque County Historical Society created the America’s River project with a goal of raising $25 million to redevelop the riverfront. Soon the $25 million America’s River project, with the help of a $40 million state Vision Iowa grant, became a $188 million revitalization reality, one of the most successful in the state. The goal for the project was to transform 90 acres of underutilized, industrial, brownfield property north of the historic Ice Harbor into a campus capturing the historical, environmental, educational and recreational majesty of the Mississippi River. The first phase of the project had five anchor components: the Mississippi Riverwalk, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the Grand River Center, the Grand Harbor Resort, and the Star Brewery. These initiatives, and the construction of a new Marina, are now complete and the results are nothing short of amazing. The City marina was opened in 2013 and allows easy access to a vibrant riverfront. Boaters traveling to Dubuque will be comforted to know that transient slippage and access to everything the city has to offer await your arrival at the Port.

Port of Dubuque Marina in the Ice Harbor

The area now known as the Port of Dubuque continues to evolve as America’s River Phase II is underway and it has become a stunning gateway for the city and to the state of Iowa. The City completed work The Port of Dubuque Marina is a 100% transient marina, there are no permanent slip holders. The Port of Dubuque Marina’s seventy-eight (78) slips include fifty-four (54) 30”, twenty (20) 40”, and four (4) 50”. By utilizing the end ties, or T-heads of the docks, the Port of Dubuque Marina can accommodate a boat up to 100” in length. The docks are rented out to boaters by the day, with a maximum stay of ten consecutive days. The Port of Dubuque Marina also offers an hourly rate for boaters who would like to dock and stay for only a short time and enjoy some of the many nearby attractions. In addition to slip rentals the Port of Dubuque Marina offers fuel sales (unleaded and diesel), and pump out services to visiting boats. The amenities building houses private boater restrooms with shower and laundry facilities, public restrooms, and a Marina convenience store.

The Port of Dubuque’s vibrant social scene

Visit Dubuque’s riverfront and you will see the vision of a community come to life. Very few cities have a Marina that offers such close proximity to shopping, dining, restaurants, and on shore attractions as the Port of Dubuque. Visit: