Dubuque County Historical Society Images

Archives & The Bowell River Library

The Captain William Bowell River Library, housed in the archives department at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, has over 20,000 items for river research. Among them are lithographs, glass plate negatives, boat blueprints, original contract and correspondence documents and a 4,000 volume library. The collection also includes the portraits of Hall of Fame inductees and important river people.

The Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works collection is more than 38 linear feet of drawings, blueprints, specifications, contracts, and correspondence relating to boats built at the Iowa Iron Works and Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works.

The Mississippi River Parkway Commission/Great River Road records are housed here with over 50 linear feet of materials from the Great River Road, an organization of ten states along the Mississippi River founded in 1938.
The Dr. William J "Steamboat Bill" Petersen Collection consists of 250 linear feet of original photographs, bills of lading, steamboat records, lead account books, manuscripts and the original research notes for Dr. William Petersen's landmark book Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi.

The Kehl Collection of photographs from Ray Bigelow shows towboats and other visual images of rivers in the 20th century.

The National Rivers Hall of Fame collection includes biographies and oral histories from over 100 major figures in America's River history. These include pathfinders, builders and inventors, river people and artists, writers and musicians, as well as nearly 50 Achievement Award winners and nearly 100 nominations for recognition.

The Bissell Collection includes papers, Waterways Journals and other items donated by the Bissell family.

The historic Dubuque Collection includes historic photographs of Dubuque city and county including valuable stereoscopic views by Samuel Root. The Henry Bosse collection is a rare set of cyanotypes showing improvements on the Upper Mississippi beginning in 1878. This is one of five known sets in the world. The postcard collection numbers over 2,000 post cards showing Dubuque and river scenes.

The Bickel Collection includes correspondence relating to people from the rivers of America, including the records of William Henry Clarence Elwell, who was at one time the world's largest fresh water pearl dealer. It also includes records from the Upper Mississippi Wildlife School circa 1920s.


The small-craft collection documents the type and form of small boats on the Mississippi River throughout the 19th and 20th century. These include two logging boats, a 1905 leisure boat, a racing shell, a fishing john boat, a 1930s clamming boat, two boat houses, and two hunting sneak boats. This collection also includes: engines, oars, and other small boat gear, a 1914 Quincy skiff that was the last boat built for the Mississippi River lumber trade by the Muller Boatyards of Stillwater, MN, a lumber bateau that is an important example of 19th century lumber boats, the Ann Howe racing shell with canvas cover, the Rosalie 1905 gas launch, an Old Town canoe, a 1908 birch bark canoe and a 1929 fishing flatboat.

The large vessel collection includes:
The 277-foot-long William M. Black, National Historical Landmark. This side-wheel steam dredge, built in 1934 to improve the Missouri River navigation channel, is one of only four preserved historic U.S. Corps of Engineers river dredges. Floating next to the Black are its tender boat Tavern, which is a 43-foot-long diesel towboat, a 50-foot pipeline barge, and The Maud, which is a 40-foot diesel towboat. The 1940 Logsdon is a 96-foot-long wooden hulled stern wheel towboat on shore next to the museum. A 43-foot houseboat built in 1979, which shows current traditional use of the river. A 25-foot wooden houseboat that will house a commercial fishing boat with nets, box traps and other fishing gear. A 26-foot wooden houseboat circa 1912 which was built at the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works will house a clamming john boat used to harvest mussels from the river for the pearl button industry. A 25-foot diameter paddlewheel from the William M. Black. A 32-foot U.S. Corps of Engineers workboat the Canton, which served on the Hennepin Canal.

Native American objects number over 1,500 and include a rare woodland effigy stone bowl, prehistoric and historic pipes and a dugout canoe, and 1,000 exploration and early trade objects including trade silver, trade beads, a keelboat cannon, a birch bark canoe, lead mining windlasses, buckets and tools.

The riverboat collection contains 1,200 steamboating artifacts (pilothouse, a gilded eagle, navigation and communication aids, steamboat furniture, china and silver, tools, paintings and lithographs), 300 boat building tools, and 675 items relating to commercial fishing, clamming, pleasure boating and tow boating.

The Herrmann Collection dates to 1870 and is a rich assemblage of natural history specimens, Native American artifacts, minerals, fossils, and early Dubuque history.

The Bissell Collection includes the pilot house, name board, steam whistle and engine room bells from the Aquila; the pleasure boat Rosalie; a steamboat wheelbarrow; a clamming flatboat; the flatboat the Nick; a doctor pump from the Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works; a Civil War-era African American doll; the 32-foot workboat Canton; and many other boats, tools, artifacts and paintings.

The Langworthy Collection housed at the Ham House represents a fine collection of furnishings that document life in Dubuque in the mid-19th century including china, parlor furniture and paintings.