Driving through Dubuque’s Historic Millwork District, it’s not difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle of the area’s industrial past. Located on the banks on the Mississippi River, Dubuque’s historic shot tower is one of the most intriguing parts of the city’s history.
Today the seven-story tower sits restored but relatively vacant in an industrial park just around the corner from Stone Cliff Winery, located in the historic Dubuque Star Brewing Company building. But the Dubuque Shot Tower wasn’t always simply a landmark for the city. In its 160 year lifetime, this historic building has served a unique and inventive purpose.
A Bit of History About Dubuque’s Shot Tower
Built in 1856 by George W. Rogers & Company, the Dubuque Shot Tower was created to help supply the military with ammunition. In its early days, the shot tower helped make what would have been a costly process of creating perfectly sized lead bullets for muskets an easy and efficient one.
So how did it work? Molten lead was poured through a grate at the top of the shot tower where it fell in relatively uniform sized portions. The height of the tower allowed the liquified metal droplet enough time to cool in a nearly perfect sphere before landing in water below to finish the cooling process.
While innovative for its time, the Dubuque Shot Tower has not escaped its fair share of scandal and strife. Almost immediately the tower struggled due to economic downturn and, surprisingly, the Civil War. At the time, the Union Army was buying its ammunition from similar towers located in St. Louis, and while a Missouri company eventually acquired Dubuque’s tower, it was not operational.
After the Civil War, the Standard Lumber Company used the tower as a fire watchtower. That is, until a lumber yard fire destroyed the company in 1911, damaging the tower and decimating that aspect of Dubuque’s industry. Until 1959, the tower sat vacant and it wasn’t until 2006 that real restoration of this unique part of the city’s history took place.
Today Dubuque’s Shot Tower is one of the last remaining in the U.S. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you Visit the Shot Tower
If you’re in the area, the Dubuque Shot Tower is absolutely worth a stop. Snap a few photos and experience a piece of the city’s history. While you aren’t allowed inside, it’s still fun to marvel at the unique shape and function of this historic landmark.
Google Maps will likely give you some pretty crazy directions as to how to get there. Instead, navigate to Stone Cliff Winery and then choose the tower address to avoid some precarious driving through industrial parks.
Historic Shot Tower, 600 E. Commercial Street in Dubuque, Iowa
I would love to hear from you! Have you been to Dubuque, Iowa? Did you know that the community has a historic shot tower?