Fenelon Place Residential Historic District

Dubuque City, DuBuque County, IA

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The Fenelon Place Historic District [1] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.


The Fenelon Place district boundaries are defined by natural typography. To the east the steep bluff front is the location of the Fenelon Place Elevator. To the south Dodge Street or U. S. Highway 20 descends along a natural drainage or cut. The district boundary ends with the historic residential boundary in that direction. To the north 5th Street West similarly descends a steep cut in the bluffs. To the west Hill Street similarly drops in elevation, although in a less pronounced manner. In consequence, the district residents enjoy excellent views of the downtown and river to the east and reside in a self-defined district, based on geography and historical development. The district plateau streetscape is dominated by principal east/west running major streets, these from north to south being 5th Street West, Fenelon Place, and 3rd Street West. Lesser key cross streets are Hill Street to the west; Burch and Summit streets midway and finally Raymond Place along the east bluff line. These streets step up grade and terraces occur particularly along the north side of Fenelon Place.

The district is most well known for its historical association with the Fenelon Place Elevator (aka 4th Street Elevator) which survives and continues to function. The elevator is included in this district given its direct contextual association with the development of the residential district. The elevator, addressed as 512 Fenelon Place, was individually listed on the National Register and as a contributing property within the Cathedral Historic District. The elevator property consists of two buildings, two cars and the trackage, these comprising five contributing properties (two buildings, two objects, one structure).

The core historic architecture consists of the earliest Dubuque range of residential styles, these being principally the Italianate with a handful of Gothic Revival, Second Empire, and Queen Anne examples. The second wave of house construction is represented by the Classical Revival style and a single Tudor Revival example (save for a second garage example). The Italianate style is represented by a range of substantial examples, many of which represent the villa sub-style. Originally set on large parcels, the majority of examples survive along the west portion of Fenelon Place, with numerous good examples close by to the south on 3rd Street West. A small number of Greek Revival style side gable row houses found on the west side of Summit Street or gable front side hall plans found on Summit Street. The Italianate style is simply dominant, with other period late Victorian styles being in the distinct minority.

The second wave of house construction witnessed both the breaking up of larger open parcels or the replacement of earlier residences. The Classical Revival style was now dominant and the examples are large in scale and are higher-end examples of their style. A few Queen Anne mansions augment the larger house range, and are located along the west end of 3rd Street West.

The residential architecture of the district's original historic core of residences reflects the then dominant Mid-19th Century and Early Victorian styles. The Italianate stylistic stamp predominates with 22 examples, with 15 of these being concentrated along Fenelon Place and 3rd Street West. The majority of these are purer stylistic examples that include several villa examples of early date. Other period styles, the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Second Empire and the Queen Anne, are represented in smaller numbers, the most numerous of these being the last-named with five examples. These being later in date, they are located for the most part around the periphery of the original Fenelon Place core.

The Classical Revival Style represents the final phase of pre-World War I infilling and comprises 31 properties. Its distribution includes the entire district nearly half of the examples representing the eastern portion of Fenelon Plaice and the replacement of some substantial early frame Italianate style residences.

National or popular house/cottage types including a simplified Colonial Revival style comprised the final district infilling. For the purposes of defining type, this submission of a house is defined as being two-stories in height, while a cottage is anything short of that. A bungalow then is technically a cottage in terms of type, but from a stylistic perspective is termed a bungalow.

Fenelon Place is the southernmost of Dubuque's distinctive bluff-front neighborhoods. Fenelon Hill or even Fenelon Place was commonly broadly used to refer to the larger neighborhood beginning in the pre-Civil War years.

The district was fully developed as a residential neighborhood. However, two commercial properties are located at Hill and 5th and reflect the mixed use of Hill Street. With one great exception, there are no historic institutional or religious buildings within the district. The Tri-State Convalescent Center is located at 901 3rd. Major commercial and institutional land uses border the survey area along its southern edge.

Given its bluff top location it is no surprise that the actual distribution of housing within the survey area assumes no dominant pattern. Three streets run the full east/west length of the survey area (3rd, Fenelon and 5th). Just two cross streets, Burch and Summit, connect the perimeter streets, 5th and 3rd. Consequently the vast majority of homes front north or south onto the east/west streets. East and west fronting houses are found on both sides of Burch and Summit, the west side of Gilmore, and both sides of Cardiff, which projects southward below 3rd Street West. Houses which front onto 3rd and 5th, to the east of Summit Street, are set atop increasingly higher terraces as one proceeds eastward.

The survey area topography consists of two prominent ridge lines that orient roughly east and west. One runs south of 3rd Street West, while the other runs between that street (on the south) and 5th to the north. Hill Street runs through a broad drainage that orients to the northeast and both 5th and 3rd Street follow steeply pitched drainage basins. Despite the topography, streets assume a traditional grid pattern, with north/south streets being aligned with the bluff front in a northwest/southeast orientation. The plats and sub-plats produced lots of varied dimensions. Alleyways occur only along Hill and the several east-west streets.


The district was populated early on with a number of early frame houses and cottages. It is probable that those who lived there were associated with mining efforts to the west of the city. The Dubuque Republican reported, in late 1856: "The appearance of this bluff dotted over with fine cottages and prominent buildings as viewed from the east side of the Mississippi is truly a beautiful scene—one which strikes the stranger with astonishment in viewing a city, which for fine business blocks, beautiful residences and grand romantic scenery surroundings is not surpassed by any city in the Western States."

Early City Council actions affected developing streets in this area. Austin Adams and others asked the Council on September 15, 1856, to establish a formal grade on Fenelon Place. Most curious were several actions relative to Summit Street. Summit was laid out 40' wide between 3rd and 5th and ran between City Lots 734 and 721 in I. S. Jannett's plat. The street was to take 20' from each of the lots. Apparently developers blocked the street given the note that the "street has been obstructed much to the inconvenience of the residents in the vicinity and it being the only access to 5th Street." The Council acted on March 23, 1857, recommending that the City accept the street and directed the City Engineer to remove the obstructions. That action was re-approved on April 20 and May 4, 1857 in response to the petition of A. S. Bunting and 25 other individuals. As late as July 13, 1857 Ed Mattox communicated to the Council relative to re-opening Summit Street. Fifth Street was frequently on the Council docket and it is difficult to know which segment of that street was being considered. The south side ditch along the road, between Bluff Street and the top of the hill was judged to be too shallow and caused flooding on the lower parts of the street. The Council appropriated $185 to deepen it. The Committee on Streets, charged with examining possible street connections in the area between Hill and Julien, reported on September 1, 1856, "it would require to make 5th Street an easy grade, a cutting from 10 to 15 feet in depth, and to do this, would cost some three thousand dollars or more." Similar grading was needed to extend 5th beyond Hill Street and if that work was done, it "would in effect make property of less value than at present." The City Marshall was instructed on October 10, 1854 to pay damages resulting from opening 5th across the land of Thomas Kelly. On October 1, 1855, the Council adopted the City Engineer's formal profile for 5th "west of the old incorporation line" and for Hill Street, between Julien and 5th Street. The Council received complaints on June 2, 1857, that contractor P. Wells, grading on 5th, was undermining fences. On June 9, 1856 the City Engineer presented a profile for 5th, between Bluff and Hill Street. A petition was received to further extend 5th beyond Hill Street.

The earliest detailed reports of house building atop or near Prospect Hill date to 1856-57 when a lengthy list of new houses and cottages clustered mainly along the east base of the hill along the east side of Bluff or on the 5th Street hill to the north. A number of listings were along Prospect, which then continued as far south as 4th. Fenelon and 4th were being both used, and 4th apparently ascended the bluff front at least in the imagination. J. A. Parker had a frame dwelling on 4th, west of Prospect Rev. G. R. Trowbridge had his frame dwelling on the corner of 4th and Prospect. Machinist J. W. Glynn lived in a new frame residence on Fenelon between Bluff and Locust. E. W. Deitrich had finished a $6,500 brick mansion on the corner of Fenelon and Summit. The Cannon Brothers, grocers, similarly built a two-story brick residence on Fenelon, east of Summit. Gardener Ed Mattox built two two-story dwellings on Summit. Land-Agent J. M. Simmeral built a fine double brick building on the summit of 5th for $3,200. Other listings in the newspaper could not be found in the 1857 city directory.

The missionary Dr. Dean was quoted as comparing the vista from the bluff tops with the scenery around Hong Kong. The editor of the Daily Times, writing in mid-1857, lauded the bluffs for their protection against the Mosquito plague: "Having taken our abode on the bluffs, to our great chagrin, we have no attentions from this gauzy-winged, bedroom bird. It is understood, however, that such of our adipose aldermen as live below the bluffs, have its nocturnal respects."

The same writer also encouraged the planting and preservation of trees on the bluffs: "On the bluffs, every street should be decorated with trees as soon as it is graded, by so doing, in a very short time the walks there will be unexcelled in delightfulness. Dubuque can be made into an arena of beauty, if we begin now, and make no halt for improvements ... The groves on the bluffs should be only judiciously thinned ... For the bluffs we feel especial concern, the forest growth there must be spared. We know the denuding proponents of the Yankee, and his passion to slash, in this case, must be checked."

A major housing development was a string of houses built by Rufus Rittenhouse during 1857. The Daily Times reported: "Rufus Rittenhouse is building a block of eight brick houses on Summit street, near the residence of Mr. Pinto, opposite the property of E. Mattocks, and within five minutes walk of the Post Office. They are admirably located for first class residences, having a good neighborhood, and a delightful view of the country. Mr. R. is erecting them for the purpose of accommodating our citizens with good homesteads. They are well built, have every convenience that a family requires, and will be sold, we understand, on favorable terms."

These buildings survive today as 419-21, 427-33 and 439-49 Summit. Reference to the proximity of the downtown envisioned a brisk walk down 5th Street.

Life on the bluffs brought with it additional costs and inconveniences. As the following account indicates, anything hauled up from the city below brought with it a premium in delivery charges. Water too was commonly hauled for those residences and tenements that lacked storage cisterns. By 1865, mandatory cisterns for every residence were advocated and it was claimed that the city would have gained 1,000 more residents had such an ordinance been enacted ten years earlier (Dubuque Herald,): "Filling Up: Everybody wants to live in the Fourth Ward this fall, from some unaccountable reason. They say it is very healthy in that locality, victuals taste better, the air is pure, and as for the society, that is a No. 1, the cream of the city. Those bluffs are not hard to climb, and no person grumbles about giving a dollar extra for having a cord of wood hauled up there ... In many parts of the ward there is a bustle and moving that reminds one of Mayday in New York families filling up unoccupied tenements, and parsons searching for a dwelling to move into."

Living on the bluffs and getting there readily were two different things. When wet the unpaved streets up the bluff were barely passable and when wet and frozen, the Dubuque Herald observed "a person could go all over the city with a pair of skates, while those unfortunate individuals living on the bluffs were forced to adopt the style that the serpent assumed after tempting Eve, or else go up to the edge and roll off." The same source described the fate of a resident living at the head of Julien Avenue who tired to go to the city for his usual dinner. That individual "tumbled down three hundred and forth-nine times and cracked his skull in twelve places" getting to his meal.

Critically vital street improvements greatly facilitated bluff-top living. Hill Street was first improved in mid-1867 with a combination of grading, macadamizing and the construction of stone retaining walls. A Mr. Brophy, a resident of the city for several years, was a veteran of stonework at West Point, Fort Sumter (Charleston, South Carolina) and the foundation for New York City's Crystal Palace, had the contract for the stonework. This back way to the bluff top was likely used for many years, at least by wheeled traffic. The opening of Hill Street resulted in a flurry of commercial buildings around its junction with Julien Avenue (now University) and 8th Street. Harkett's Nursery, established in 1872 at 5th and Hill, was the furthest out example along Hill.

Rufus Rittenhouse built up the west side of Summit Street in 1857 when he erected a block of eight houses. The houses were said to be "admirably located" and in "a good neighborhood" with a "delightful view" (Dubuque Times, August 24, 1857). A major Fenelon area developer/builder was John McCoy. He purchased the William Chamberlain lot adjoining Julius Grave's house on Fenelon and announced plans to build an "elegant and substantial brick residence" on the parcel that same season in early 1869. The Herald noted "Mr. McCoy is one of the men who largely aid in the improvement and growth of our city." When the Chamberlains offered the parcel for sale, the Herald added "This is one of the pleasantest places in the city. A large handsome well built house, ample grounds in a most elegant excellent neighborhood—here is everything to make it a desirable home.

House building and swapping on Fenelon Place and in the neighborhood proceeded at a feverish pace during 1869. John McCoy sold a new house on Fenelon to J.K. Duncan for $2,325. W. H. Robbins sold his Summit Street residence to Alpheus Palmer for $4,000. "Both purchases," noted the Herald, "are considered bargains by knowing ones." The Fenelon sale by McCoy apparently involved a lot he purchased from George Gray in March 1869 for $600.

The northeast portion of Fenelon Place remained undeveloped as of 1940. It was platted and streets were laid out along with the rest of the neighborhood but the lots remained bare. Dean and Regina Cooper re-platted the area as Cooper Place with a half-boulevard focal point The plat included Gilmore Street and Raymond Place, both of which were named after Raymond Gilmore, Dean Cooper's grandfather. Two houses were built on the west end of the plat in 1940 but other developments were delayed until the early 1950s. The Coopers built a small number of rental properties at the east end of the plat, including a double-minimal traditional plan at 416-18 Raymond Place. That double house was veneered with salvaged stone from the demolished A. A. Cooper mansion at 5th and Bluff (the "Greystone"). They also assembled the Lustron cottage (515 Cooper Place) and adjoining cottages on Cooper Place and Raymond Place. Most of the other lots were sold off and built on individually, and examples such as 595 Cooper Place were self-built. Residents later furnished Cooper Park with play equipment. At least one cottage on Cooper Place was demolished by a developer with the intention of building a larger tenement. The Coopers donated bluff front land to the city with a promise of park development and the opening of the sidewalk to West 5th Street, but nothing has been done along those lines.

‡ Adapted from: James E. Jacobsen, consultant, History Pays, Fenelon Place Historic District, Dubuque County, IA, nomination document, 2015, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
3rd Street West • 5th Street West • Burch Street • Cardiff Street • Cooper Place • Fenelon Place • Gilmore Street • Hill Street • James Street • Maiden Lane • Raymond Place • Summit Street

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