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Potluck: Worth a Shot


An Iconic Tower Is Part of
Dubuque’s Past and Future

Story by Mary Gottschalk
photo by Bobbie Russie

In this 21st-century world of precision munitions, it’s easy to forget that lead shot was once formed from molten metal poured through a copper sieve and dropped from a considerable height into a tub of water far below. A visible reminder of that early technology is the 120-foot-tall Shot Tower in Dubuque, one of only seven such towers left in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi. 

That unique piece of Dubuque’s history was documented during the renovation of the limestone and brick Shot Tower, a five-year project that won a Preservation at Its Best award from Preservation Iowa in 2011.

Preservation Iowa is an organization that has worked for two decades to help Iowa communities maintain the authentic sense of place that comes from important historic structures and prehistoric sites.

“The Shot Tower is an iconic landmark in Dubuque,” says Bob Schiesl, assistant city engineer, “and it was a key part of Dubuque’s plan to revitalize the riverfront.”

According to Schiesl, Dubuque learned a lot about its own history during the project. Because the tower had been long abandoned when it was damaged by fire in 1911, the rehabilitation included an archeological dig through some 15 feet of accumulated dirt and ash to identify and preserve artifacts that would have been associated with the original tower or its subsequent owners. The dig unearthed the original Shot Tower well, along with materials to confirm that the Dubuque tower only produced small shot — suitable for birds and squirrels — and never made ammunition large enough for muskets.  

Learn more about the Shot Tower online ( or contact John Sutter ( or 563-557-9545).

For information on Preservation Iowa and the 2012 awards (to be announced this fall), visit

The $780,000 rehabilitation project included extensive repointing, new historically appropriate windows, and an unexpected interpretive opportunity. The 19th-century landmark now stands as part of today's revitalized riverfront (top, right).

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