Telling the SAT Story: Dubuque Shot Tower

Dubuque Shot Tower
Dubuque, IA
Year of Award: 2004
National Park Service SAT Grant: $295,000
Matching Share Leveraged: $345,631

Shot towers, which manufactured lead shot ammunition, remain in limited numbers throughout the country, and their existence tell stories of troubled times in American history, and therefore tell a critical piece of American history. The Dubuque Shot Tower in Dubuque, Iowa is the only surviving shot tower that exemplifies the Egyptian obelisk form. It is also, according to David Johnson, Assistant Planner with the City of Dubuque, “a highlight of the Dubuque riverfront and source of pride for Dubuque residents.” It is a destination for residents and visitors that not only adds vibrancy to the riverfront, but also provides a tangible connection to the community’s past. However, without the assistance of the National Park Services’ Save America’s Treasures (SAT) program, it would likely have deteriorated before it filled either of those goals.

Built in 1856 to produce lead shot, a fire in 1911 destroyed the tower’s wooden stairs inside and on the roof, making it impossible for anyone to enter. Because there was no easy way to access the tower for maintenance and repairs, the structure began to decline rapidly. For the better part of the 20th century, the shot tower continued its state of disrepair.  In 1960, a concrete cap was added as a roof replacement and other attempts to stabilize the shot tower were undertaken using improper techniques, which caused further deterioration of the tower for over 40 years.

Craftsmen do masonry repair and repointing on the exterior of the Dubuque Shot Tower from boom lifts.

Craftsmen do masonry repair and repointing on the exterior of the Dubuque Shot Tower from boom lifts.

By the time the tower received the Save America’s Treasures grant in 2004, it was in need of a new permanent roof, new doors and windows, and masonry repairs and interior and exterior repointing. Luckily, thanks to the assistance of SAT, the city of Dubuque was able to take advantage of financial resources and the expertise of skilled craftspersons. The SAT grant awarded provided the single largest portion of funding to the project, and was matched from several additional funding sources, including the State Historical Society of Iowa and the City of Dubuque, which contributed $115,000 and $200,000 to the project, respectively.

Before (left) view of an upper story window louver and after (right) of a lower story 4 over 4 double hung sash window, which were used throughout the shot tower to replace the louvers.

Before (left) view of an upper story window louver and after (right) of a lower story 4 over 4 double hung sash window, which were used throughout the shot tower to replace the louvers.

Before work could be completed on the rehabilitation, archaeologists and professors and students of archaeology at nearby Loras College collaborated with professional archaeologists to conduct an archaeological survey around and inside of the tower. They found the original well that cooled the falling lead shot and burn layers from the 1911 fire, and through the process of digging, sorting materials, and developing interpretive materials,   a more robust vision of the site’s history emerged .

These experiences provided added value to the community involved with the project. During the archaeological survey, the students gained valuable hands-on experience excavating, sifting, and interpreting archaeological data.

Loras College Student Sorting Material

Loras College student dry screening archaeological material at the Dubuque Shot Tower.

Also, interested students from Central Alternative High School also gained valuable professional experience with historical research, and along with their Social Studies teacher, John Adelmann, produced The Dubuque Shot Tower, a History Press book on the history of the tower, in 2011. Through their shared experiences renovating the tower, this community collaborated to create lasting resources that continue to tell the history of the shot tower.

This incredibly unique resource is a great benefit to Dubuque residents and visitors. Johnson said, “The project built a tremendous amount of awareness, appreciation, and good will toward preservation in the community, and the contributions of the students, teachers and citizens who dedicated themselves to this project will endure.”  Additionally, the knowledge of treatment approaches learned in the process has been disseminated to many architects, developers, and homeowners in the community. The revitalized Dubuque Shot Tower, at 120 feet, also uniquely contributes to the overall sense of place in the community and along the revitalizing riverfront, and will continue to do so for years thanks to the support of the Save America’s Treasures program.

05 - ext before and after

Before (left) and after (right) views of the exterior of the Dubuque Shot Tower (click for larger view).

For more information on the Dubuque Shot Tower and the City of Dubuque, please visit their website or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Established in 1999, the Save America’s Treasures program is managed by the National Park Service, with the National Endowment Agencies, to preserve and protect nationally significant properties and collections for future generations of Americans.  Stories of saving those treasures will be shared through partnership with the American Architectural Foundation.



Images courtesy of the City of Dubuque.

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Posted in: Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, Creative Placemaking, Preservation, Print, Save America's Treasures
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