Washington Residential Historic District

Dubuque City, Dubuque County, IA

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The Washington Residential Historic District [‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.


This seven by three block portion of the original city is bounded roughly by 11th Street East on the south, the alleyways that run east of Central Avenue or White Street on the west, 18th Street East to the north, and the alleyway east of Washington Street on the east. The east side of Washington Street is excluded south of 14th Street East, and the entire street is excluded below 13th Street East. The east side of Jackson Street is excluded south of 12th Street East and the entire street below 1193-95 Jackson. Both sides of Jackson Street are included between 18th and 20th streets east.

While principally a residential district, it does include a range of religious properties (historic and current), corner commercial buildings and in its northeast corner, a handful of industrial properties. The historical commercial properties include upper level residences.

The District could be compared to Boston's "Back Bay," the latter area having backed up against the Charles River. In this Dubuque example the district comprises the city's oldest extant residential area as well as the section of the city that was bordered to the east by wetlands. Thus in historical times there was no possibility of using a numbered street to go anywhere east of the district. All through-traffic passed along the named streets, running north and south. In at least partial consequence of this pattern, but also due to the platting of the blocks, there are very few side street properties, the vast majority fronting on the named streets. This area is level in its topography, reflective of its placement on the alluvial terrace upon which the original city developed.

While primarily a residential area, this District stands out because of its higher proportion of brick residences, the earliest range of architectural styles and types, and the presence of a number of very early church edifices and other institutional buildings. A number of corner storefronts are present as are several industrial buildings on the northeast district periphery.

Houses are of varied setbacks with many earlier examples having a considerable setback. In some instances second houses are found along alleyways and in several cases buildings that front onto a side street address to the named street rather that the numbered one it fronts to. The district is largely tree-covered. There is a surprisingly low survival rate of historical outbuildings. The few early examples of early stables have been for the most part re-sided. Rusticated concrete block garages comprise the majority of the earliest surviving outbuilding examples. What typifies this residential area is the general lack of setbacks, nearly non-existent side yards and the associated narrow spaces between adjacent buildings. Side porches are commonly found on the south-sides of single dwellings, these being placed behind the shadow lines of the neighboring building to the south. Thus buildings to the east of a street have this porch arrangement on the right-hand side of their plans, while west side plans are reversed. Typically a side-hall plan also relegates the entry and stair side of the plan to the north resulting in a largely un-fenestrated north wall.

The breakdown in age of construction for the district is impressive. Nearly three-quarters of all of the buildings predate 1884. A third pre-dates 1875, while 40 percent date to 1876-1883. Twelve percent date to 1885-1891 and just 16 percent post-date 1891 excluding the nine new properties. In most instances these dates are prior to dates based upon Sanborn maps which means many buildings are much earlier than their given years of construction would indicate. The district name is not an ideal one but it is the earliest neighborhood reference that is known. The 1962 Victor Gruen report identified neighborhood names and boundaries and presumably used existing area names in lieu of coining new ones. As this document indicates, Washington Street is the least significant of the district's principal named streets by all measures so it is ironic that it rises to be the neighborhood's namesake. The more recently coined Old Town Neighborhood title, while reflecting the early age of the city's oldest neighborhood, smacks of "Ye Olde" tavern signage and stands to be confused with the Old Main Historic District.

The district includes two National Register of Historic Places listings. The Michael Hollenfelz residence, with two contributing buildings, was listed September 13, 1977. The Dubuque Casket Company Building, with one contributing buildings, was listed February 6, 2006.

The vernacular front and side gable sidewall plan is commonplace in the district and in Dubuque generally. It is a functional component for residences that front east or west in particular given that the hall and entry is then placed on the dark side of the plan resulting in a largely un-fenestrated sidewall on that side. Just two examples are deemed to represent the more formal Federal townhouse model (McAlester), these being 1360 and 1657 Jackson Street. Most sidewall entries include transoms and a good number are double door entries again with transoms. Transom features remain in place even when they are paneled over. Row houses per se are uncommon in Dubuque and the city's best example, of seven units, is located at 1765-95 Washington Street.

There are 11 examples of the Italianate style and all of these are located on White and Jackson streets. This style encompasses most of the early churches and related church buildings. Narrowed elongated windows, representative of this style, worked well with the narrower residential plans of the district, although near-floor length window openings are rare occurrences. Bracketed eaves lines are the style's hallmarks and are commonly found on multi-unit plans. Triangular cross dormers, and pediment forms are also associated with this style and are found on the same duplexes and triplexes.

The Gothic Revival style accounts for the remainder of later church designs (1276, 1584, 1702, 1772 White Street and 1698, 1795 Jackson). Gothic style examples number 8 (with two buildings at 1584 White Street), all of these being churches or church related buildings. These examples offer lancet windows, pilaster (with shoulder stones) framed bays, with shoulder stones, steeples, square towers, and oculus windows. Several churches have lost original fenestration due to residential conversion or have gained substantial educational wings and new entrances.

Second Empire examples number 12 buildings (1263, 1494-96, 1913 Jackson Street and 1128-34, 1200-02, 1274, 1539, 1555-57, 1584, 1635, 1651, 1709-11 White Street). All of these are in the west part of the district and all but four examples are on White Street. This is a clear indication of the architectural primacy of that street. All examples have a mansard attic/roof component although a few building designs employ a single plane (facade) vertical mansard-like cladding on the uppermost floor. True mansard examples, have a four-sided angled mansard attic cap. All of the district examples are important due to their earlier building dates. Many Dubuque Second Empire examples date to the turn-of-the century and reflect a later German cultural revival. Six examples pre-date 1884, while all but one pre-date 1891, just one dates as late as 1896. The form is particularly popular on larger mixed-use buildings. All examples are brick and all but two are two-story plans, the others three-story including the attic level. Most are addressed not as duplexes or triplexes, but as single units. The distribution of these examples is notable, with all but two occurring on White Street, the others low down on Jackson Street, with no Washington Street examples.

Queen Anne examples number just three and all of these represent later modifications of pre-existing vernacular examples (1133 White, 1300 Jackson, 1502 Washington). These examples feature bays or oriel windows, turrets, patterned shingle work, side wings, and wrap-around porches.

The sole Romanesque style example is located at 1930 Jackson Street. The district is primarily comprised of smaller scale residential building forms. Some 38 properties are duplexes, triplexes (6) and fourplexes (3) and there are two apartment row houses or buildings (1765-95 Washington, seven units, 1891-1909, and 1100 White, 1870, unknown number of units). Each of these represents multiple units, for a total of 103 addresses, or 37 percent of the total number of primary properties. Side gable duplexes number 31 and only six of these are frame buildings. Two have parapet fronts and one has a hip roof. Thirty-one gable front duplexes are of frame construction. Brick is the material of choice for side-gable duplex plans. One subtype of particular interest is the broad square-plan gable front duple/triplex. They tend to be of early construction date, with all but one example pre-dating 1884. Most have twin-front and rear attic lights and a high profile. Examples are found at 1403- 05, 1428-1430, 1609-1611, and 1664-1668-1670, and 1725-1731-1737 Washington. All are found on this street.

The Classical Revival style represents the later infilling of the district, in most cases being replacement homes that removed first-generation residences. The 14 properties (1248, 1250, 1257; 1308, 1318, 1404-06, 1530, 1710, 1920, 1949 Jackson Street, 1503, 1543, 1693-95 Washington Street and 1722-35 White Street) are concentrated in the center of the district and to the east, reflecting the later infilling that typified this part of the district. The style is more broadly represented in the form of returned eaves or closed eave gable ends but is augmented by more authentic examples that add Palladian-like gable end window sets or other Classical components. The style overlays with earlier massings as well.

Vernacular plans, commonly combined with some stylistic components (most commonly a sidewall entry) predominate within the district. Gable front houses (two full stories) number 63 and are evenly split in frame and brick construction. Two examples are of rusticated concrete block construction and one frame example is stuccoed.

Gable front cottage (less than two stories) examples are infrequent with but 7 examples and only two are simple single story examples. Just one of the 7 examples is of brick construction.

There are 9 gable front duplexes, 5 of brick construction. With but one example on White Street, these are in the central or east part of the district.

Side gable vernacular house plans are less common with just 21 examples or a third of the gable front type count. These are more commonly of brick construction (13 examples). These are also in the district core (Jackson Street) or to the east with but two White Street examples. Side gable cottages consist of but two frame examples, both on Jackson Street.

The full two-story side gable type becomes more numerous and visually dominant in its multi-unit form, with 25 duplexes and a single triplex example. Brick examples again predominate with 19 properties and two frame examples emulate the brick with faux brick or permastone claddings. These examples are predominantly on the cross streets and Washington Street where 12 examples make this type the most dominant on that lesser street's architecture. There is one single-story duplex example (1846-48 Jackson Street) and it is of brick construction.

Hip roof house examples number just four examples and there is but a single true foursquare property (145 17th Street). Popular house or cottage types include one Cape Cod cottage (1472 White Street), one Dutch Colonial cottage (1398 Jackson Street).

Parapet front duplexes number 5 examples but these are visually important within the larger mix of duplex types, particularly as they inter-play with combination commercial/apartment examples. All but one of the former are of brick construction. They are on the periphery of the district along White and Washington streets in even numbers. There are 20 commercial properties and these include two newer buildings. A total of 8 of the 20 are non-contributing properties. The distribution across the district is clearly concentrated with Jackson Street claiming 11 of the total. This is good evidence that Jackson Street functioned as the "backbone" of commercial activity. There are but two commercial properties on Washington Street and 4 on White Street. There are two factory buildings (1866 Jackson Street, 1798 Washington Street) both are contributing and are in the northeast corner of the district.

The district includes nine vacant lots, three of these being located on cross-streets. One property contains just a secondary garage building (1536 Washington Street). There is just one new residence (1660 Washington Street, 1993). Two traffic circles on Washington Street are counted as non-contributing structures.

The majority of secondary buildings are of concrete block construction. Substantial buildings are garages and almost all of the other examples are temporary storage sheds small in scale and recent in date. Later-date garages are still mostly of concrete block makeup while historical period examples use a rusticated block. These later block garages read visually as historic buildings but only those built after 1965 are deemed to be non-contributing. Flat roofs predominate. Many garages are multi-car and extend fully across the rear of lots. Frame garages of the historical period tend to be one-car hip roof types. These tend to have been resided but are deemed to be contributing if their form and massing are visible.

Frame houses are in every case re-clad. Historically they would have had a narrow clapboard with corner boards. Wood shingle applications in gable ends are not common, nor is the use of stringcourse trim work. Soffits are not ornamented in any manner apart from a frame edging in gable fronts. Window frames are mostly slightly projected beyond the wall plane and there-cladding makes them flush. Given these baseline features or lack thereof, re-cladding does not obscure original details in most instances, the exception being if window openings are covered up. Primary buildings that have been re-clad are deemed to be contributing if the basic form remains visible. This includes porch profiles, fenestration, entryways, bays or the like. Porches that retain their superstructure and form yet have lost supports or original bases do not render a property noncontributing. Porches that have been built in with the downsizing or elimination of windows, or completely replaced porch systems do make their associated buildings non-contributing.


The district is significant historically for its association with the early German speaking population of Dubuque. This linkage is best illustrated by the clustering of the several coffin-making factories around the district to the northeast and east, but also its proximity to the railroad yards and the woodworking district to the southeast. The presence of a number of the city's earliest protestant churches attests to the early history of those important institutions. The district also contains a good number of important retail business buildings and these interpret the nexus of small-scale commercial activities within residential neighborhoods. The period of significance is 1866-1965. The beginning date being the earliest documented building, the ending date being the 50-year National Register program standard for determining historical significance

The 1866 lithograph documents the early development of the area and clearly shows that building activity clustered along White and Jackson streets. Washington Street in fact terminated at 14th Street. Buildings east of Jackson appear to be mostly of frame construction. The dominant presence is St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, known early on as the "German" Catholic Church in the city. It was built 1864-66 and likely was a major influence in pushing the development of this upper end of the old city. The German emigrant influx after the Civil War provided a population base to fuel that growth.

By 1872 development had shifted eastward to include both sides of Washington Street, but Elm Street was largely undeveloped above 14th Street. There was just one major industry in the area, the Dubuque Furniture and Burial Case factory at 18th and Washington. The railroad lines to the east formed a buffer between this neighborhood and a developing one to the east that centered on Maple between 14th and 17th streets.

Eighteenth Street had some importance as an east/west link to the rail yards to the east. By 1884 a hotel (18th and Washington), the aforementioned factory and a flour mill were all located along that street. A developing industrial sector was emerging along Elm Street between East 11th and 19th streets. Two factories, including the Iowa Coffin Company, were east of this district.

City directories give an approximation of the number of commercial properties that were in operation (this is based on listings which appeared in the separate business section of each directory, a list that included the more prominent businesses).

From the start, Washington Street lagged behind White and Jackson streets and didn't catch up until 1890. White dominated Jackson as well until 1880. The commercial activities covered a broad range and went well beyond corner groceries and saloons. At the peak of activity in 1890, there were just eight groceries in operation and six saloons. Small manufactures included blacksmiths, cigar makers, carpet weavers, dressmakers, cobbler, cooper, church furniture makers, express men, insurance dealers, music teachers, engravers, marble cutters, wagon maker, and a stone yard. Large-scale factories were at each end of Washington Street. Service businesses included a chimney sweep, livery, boarding house, hotel, baker and confectioner. Retail businesses included single instances of stove seller, notions (several), meats, books and stationery, drug store, feed warehouses (several), billiard hall, and dry goods. A good number of contractor/builders resided and worked from the district, eight in 1890. One non-commercial service, that is included in this tally, is a sub-police station that was in operation at 13th and Washington streets.

It is interesting to note the close correlation between the directory listings and Sanborn maps for 1883 and 1884 respectively. This is not the case in comparing 1890 directory and the 1891 Sanborn data. Clearly there were several periods of increase in commercial activity, notably 1870, the early 1880s, and the late 1890s. The tally for businesses drops abruptly as of 1891 but recovers at the turn of the century.

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

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
11th Street East • 12th Street East • 13th Street East • 14th Street East • 15th Street East • 16th Street East • 17th Street East • 18th Street East • 19th Street East • 20th Street East • Jackson Street • Washington Street • White Street

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