Main Streets 2017: Iowa
Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city, and a century ago, it was a major manufacturing center renowned for its beautiful river vistas and stunning Victorian architecture. But over the years, its heavy industry faded, and by the 1970s, the downtown needed serious work.
The city responded. Local leaders embraced the national Main Street movement, dedicated to revitalizing historic downtowns and neighborhoods. Dubuque’s historic Main Street and its downtown environs were well worth reviving — and it wasn’t long before money was raised and decayed remains of the industrial age had been replaced by new river walks, parks, art galleries and plentiful things to do.
The Saturday farmer’s market, dating to 1858, is the oldest in this state known for its agriculture. It closed for a time in the 1970s, but came back with arts and crafts added to the splendid array. Today’s market features over 130 vendors, kids’ activities, live music and special events.
The not-for-profit Dubuque Main Street hosts Fall into Art, a self-guided tour of the downtown Dubuque Cultural Corridor, which includes Cable Car Square, the Historic Millwork District, Historic Old Main, and Upper Main/Farmers’ Market. Working artists show their paintings, pottery, photography and much more.
While you’re admiring the art downtown, you can also admire the architecture — including the Carnegie-Stout Library, built in 1901 in Neo-Classical Revivalist style, a block from Main on West 11th Street.
Also a block off Main, at 8th and Iowa, is the Grand Opera House, built in 1890 and still the oldest stage in town. Superstars like Henry Fonda and Sarah Bernhardt performed at the Opera House during its first four decades. The venue has been in near continuous operation, but suffered from deferred maintenance before being renovated in the late 2oth century, inside and out, and reopened as a local gem reborn.
Historic Old Main, a gateway district to downtown that has also seen a good deal of reinvestment, offers retail shopping, locally owned bars and restaurants, as well as live music. Its centerpiece is the Five Flags Center, a 1911 venue formerly known as the Majestic Theatre that was saved from demolition, renovated and reopened in 1979. City-owned and home to the Dubuque Symphony, the center hosts a wide variety of theater, music, sports and festival events. It’s named for the five national flags — of France, Spain, Great Britain, Napoleon’s French Republic, and the U.S.A. — that have flown over Dubuque during its long, rich and still-unfolding history.
All photos courtesy of Visit Dubuque