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Langworthy Historic District

Dubuque City, Dubuque County, IA


Home in the Langworthy Historic District, Dubuque

Photo: Home in the Langworthy Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Photographed by User:Boscophotos (own work), 2016, [cc-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed May, 2021.


The Langworthy Historic Residential District [†] was listed on the National Regiter of Historic Places in 2004. It occupies a prominent hilltop location in the middle of Dubuque's West Hill area. As such it differs from the West 11th Street proposed district due to its western "inland" setting on rolling land. This proposed district is the westernmost residential district to be identified in city historical surveys. The two districts, Langworthy and West 11th Street, both of which are being concurrently nominated for National Register listing, are similar in setting only to the extent that they are both located west of and above the city proper, and both occupy recognizable plateaus. The West 11th Street district differs dramatically in its setting due to its setting immediately upon the bluff front. Its bluff front profile is prominently visible from the area below the bluffs. The Langworthy district lacks any such visual prominence. It occupies an elevated location with a southern exposure or profile that is visible from the south, below Dodge Street (Highway 20) and it is framed by important arterials (Hill and West 5th streets). It is also landmarked by the proximity, to the east of the imposing Methodist Hospital complex, on Hill Street. The principal western bus line continues to follow Hill, West Third and Alpine streets. Still, like the rest of Dubuque, west of the bluffs, the traveler has to know where to go in order to find the district.

The district was considerably more prominent when it was first settled and developed, and this is attested to by its prominent inclusion on the 1872 and 1889 birds eye lithographs. At the time when the Langworthy area was first settled, the area around the city was entirely denuded of trees due to the insatiable appetite for wood fuel for the lead smelters. Consequently the earliest houses in the district presented a good unobstructed eastward view of the Mississippi River Valley and the Wisconsin hills. Of course inclusion on the panoramic views was also due to the prominence of the Langworthy family, which owned the land, and the lack of other comparable developments in the area.

The Langworthy district comprises two distinct ranges of residential designs, those that predate 1880, and those that predate 1925. Stylistically these might be categorized as early and late Victorian, with the latter group including revival styles as well. The district is completely residential in its composition, with no commercial or institutional buildings of any sort within its boundaries. Also almost completely absent are multi-family houses, 194-98 Alpine being the only historical duplex present (recent infill construction added just three duplexes to the mix). The district is made distinctive due to the uniform presence of larger scale residential plans and even the latest houses added, were of substantial though middle class scale. All of the houses are visually separated both in terms of larger lot sizes and frequently vertical dimensions as well. The north-facing houses along West Third and Melrose in particular, were constructed on a series of graded stepped building sites, ascending from east to west along those streets. The more homogeneous class of buildings and occupants is directly reflected by the high state of integrity in the house designs. Save for the expected replacement of porches, just one house (205 Hill) received a complete stylistic makeover. Instead these houses are notable for their resistance to change. A Neo-Classical porch, eavesline and clerestory were added to 325 Alpine after 1933 and a 1947 rear addition to 1095 West 3rd (the Octagon house) was designed to blend with the original house. The Queen Anne design at 1095 Langworthy was even moved into the district and restored after 1955, a very late acknowledgement of the districts design continuity (non-contributing due to its relocation).

The preponderance of houses in the district represent examples of late 19th and 20th Century revival styles and their concentration is singular in comparison to the rest of the city. Their continued construction here after 1910 was also in contrast to the city in general, where overall examples of these styles were under-represented compared with other Iowa urban centers which continued to grow and expand, as Dubuque did not. There are indications that homeowners and their architects exercised considerable creativity in designing some of these house plans, mixing influences with abandon. Of course, best of show must go to the Edward Langworthy octagon house at 1095 West 3rd, one of the best examples of this exotic style in the state and perhaps the nation. The house designs along Alpine, south of Langworthy particularly favored the intermixing of Queen Anne cores with shingle and Neo-Classical influences. North of that point and excepting much earlier house examples, broader designs embraced the Prairie, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Tudor Revival styles. The house at 257 Hill was built of cast concrete in 1909, a most unusual medium in the city (although concrete block construction was becoming broadly popular, but for working class homes). The Neo-Classical design at 1090 Langworthy is singular, given its use of rusticated concrete block for its core construction. Collectively the houses along Melrose Terrace best illustrate a willingness to be somewhat playful with style and type. The foursquare house type at 1010 Melrose employed vaulted dormers. That at 1011 Melrose combined a Prairie Style dormer with a foursquare form. The gable front brick bungalow at 1020 Melrose presents a three-sided front and a high front dormer with returned eaves, more akin to a Chicago bungalow. Builder Chris A. Voelker did his best design work on this street with at least four designs (he very likely built 1011 Melrose). Three of these involved the use of his own rusticated concrete block. Two examples mimicked Cotswold cottage or Tudor forms (1025, 1033 Melrose), while 1062 Melrose was a side gable plan with block first floor and stucco upper level. The house at 1050 Melrose employed a foursquare core but added Prairie style window bands of windows throughout the design. The house at 1087 Melrose was very similar, having an enlarged foursquare core and window bands set towards the upper level corners. Finally 1090 Melrose offers a prominent Dutch Colonial example, the special feature being close cut eaves and a wrap-around wood shingle upper level covering that substitutes for the expected front and rear roof extensions. A few houses along West 3rd also qualify as being exceptional. 1004 and 1090 West 3rd offer two large and faithful Tudor Revival brick examples. 1087 West Third similarly displays a fairly rare stuccoed Tudor Revival design with a steeply pitched gable front. 1036 West 3rd is perhaps the most interesting design of all, combining Prairie, Tudor Revival and perhaps oriental influences in a single design. A goodly number of architects, including several of the most notable Dubuque designers, have been identified (all of the historic district houses were designed by architects, but most of the houses are unattributed). The list includes John F. Rague (1799-1877), Dubuque's most notable early architect (Dubuque City Jail, 1857; Edward Langworthy octagon, Old Capitol in Iowa City, 1850s; Illinois State Capitol), and Thomas Carkeek. Carkeek designed numerous public buildings in the city, the only survivor being the Cooper-Sullivan duplex at 504 Bluff Street (the "Redstone").

The Langworthy Historic District is architecturally significant (Criterion C) because it comprises the best-preserved and most cohesive grouping of late 19th and 20th Century Revival styles in Dubuque, particularly the Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Prairie and Mission styles. Because the prominently sited neighborhood experienced very early development, a number of earlier house styles, executed on a grand scale, can be founding the district. These include the only surviving octagon house, as well as excellent examples of the Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The district is also significant for its direct historical association with Edward, Solon and Lucius Langworthy, key early Dubuque founders (Criterion B) and that family was responsible for the platting and development of the district. No other comparable historic districts have been identified that can be attributed largely to a single family.

Just eight houses pre-date 1880 and real growth within the neighborhood began only in the mid-1890s. The earliest large houses nicely represent the earliest context, while just a few more reflect the second one. The last two contexts are well‑represented by the remaining houses. While large scale house construction largely ceased in the city with the end of the third contextual period, this district defied that trend due to the somewhat belated development of Melrose Terrace with its largely middle class houses. Collectively the district presents an excellent array of houses that represent the entire pre‑World War I history of the city. It is certainly unusual to find a mix of very early and rather later house designs but this mix nicely interprets the role of the Langworthy family in platting and making available the area for house building. In contrast to the West 11th Street district, with one exception (205 Hill), the houses of the Langworthy District were not completely made over into more modern architectural styles. Naturally many residences did gain replacement porches that were mostly NeoClassical in style.

Dr. Stephen Langworthy (17771848) saw service as a surgeon in the War of 1812, lived in five states, married twice and fathered 21 children. Four sons, James Lyon Langworthy (1800‑1865), Lucius Hart Langworthy (1807‑1865), Edward Langworthy (1808‑1893) and Solon Massey Langworthy (1814‑1886) were prominent early Dubuque settlers and played a key role in the development of lead mining in and around that developing city. The last three named sons built their first homes within the confines of the Langworthy district. Two of these homes, those of Solon (264 Alpine) and Edward Langworthy (1095 West 3rd) appear as they did when their owners resided in them.

Brothers James, Edward and Lucius Langworthy were amongst the earliest lead miners who were evicted from the future site of Dubuque by the U.S. military in 1831, James and Lucius being the first partners. Their Langworthy Lead vein, discovered in 1830, would yield over ten million pounds of lead ore, producing a family wealth that placed the brothers in a position to lead and directly influence the development of Dubuque. Settlement was opened in 1833 and all returned. Lucius Langworthy was the first sheriff of Dubuque County and represented the city in the territorial and state legislatures. He claimed to have originated the state name. He is broadly credited with building up the city of Dubuque. His obituary stated that the "fruits[of his life] are seen everywhere in a prosperous city, public schools, churches and poor men rendered prosperous by its benefaction." His early projects included helping to start the first newspaper in the city and state (The Visitor), advocating the earliest harbor improvements, contributing the largest single subscription to the founding of the first female college to be established west of the Mississippi River, the building of the first school in the state and he was credited with selecting "for the most part" the land first occupied by the city of Dubuque. Finally "more homes for the laboring classes have been obtained by title deeds from him than from any other citizen (Herald, June 11, 1865). Edward Langworthy similarly served in the territorial legislature (1839, 1841) and Constitutional Convention (1844). In his later years he was a director of the First National Bank and an investor in the Norwegian Plow Works (Herald, January 5, 1893). Solon Langworthy joined his older brothers at Dubuque in 1834. He also mined and like his siblings, invested his proceeds in Mississippi River steamboats. His Iowa claim to singular fame was that he had ploughed the first ground in what would become the state in 1833. During the Civil War he served as Quartermaster, 27th Iowa Infantry Regiment, serving into the year 1864. During the war his house is directly associated with Dubuque's Civil War role as a regional rendezvous point for recruits. Soldiers were made particularly welcome at the Solon Langworthy house by his wife, Julia Lois (Patterson) Langworthy (1823-1907). She was a key local leader in home front support efforts for soldiers and their families and played a leading role in conducting the successful 1864 U.S. Sanitary Commission fair that was held at the City Hall building. Postwar Solon Langworthy's investments included farming, banking, real estate, lumber and retailing (Herald, June 8, 1868).. Lucius Langworthy played a leading role in railroad promotion including advocating a transcontinental railroad, and was president of the Dubuque & Western Railroad and a director of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad. With brother James he constructed the noted Military Road between Dubuque and Iowa City. He was also involved in banking, serving as a director of the Miners Bank, a bank that his brother Edward actively opposed.

As of 1857-58, the bluff top area defined by West Third on the south, Hill on the east, Julien Avenue on the north, and Nevada Street on the west, was termed "Air Hill." "West Hill" is another general term used for this area (Express & Herald, March 8, 1857).

The first Langworthy plat of the neighborhood was that of Mrs. Lucius H. Langworthy, filed December 8, 1878, but prepared in May 1872. It platted the area west of Hill (total eastern frontage of 174 feet and depth of 523 feet) and south of Third, with the present-day Solon Street being the south boundary. Its western boundary was to the east of Alpine Street and the holdings of Solon Langworthy. The Lucius Langworthy homestead became Lot 4. The plat noted that the family stable and woodhouse both stood in the future right-of-way of Langworthy Street. Lots 1‑3 were south of that line, while lots 5-8 fronted to the north along West Third Street.

The Langworthy subdivision of Mineral Lot 73, filed July 10, 1873, documented the Langworthy land holdings along West Third Street. The plat showed no southward continuation of Hill Street, below West Third. Solon Langworthy owned the majority of the land south of Third, between Alpine and a point west of Hill (14.51 acres). The Valeria S. Langworthy homestead (8.31 acres) occupied the southeast corner of West Third and Hill streets. The Pauline Langworthy homestead contained the central portion of the north side of West Third. Thos. S. Nairn's land was to the west. Agnes Langworthy owned land east of Hill Street and Reeder Langworthy (son of Edward Langworthy) owned a parcel that included the central portion of the future Langworthy Street and Solon Street.

A second flurry of subdivisions were filed in the 1890s. The Langworthy Avenue Plat, filed August 5, 1899, broke up large lots along the west side of Hill Street, on either side of West Third Street. Julia L. Langworthy's Addition, filed January 20, 1891 subdivided larger lots in the southwest portion of the district, between Solon and West 3rd, and between the east side of Alpine and alley running west of Nevada Street. This plat set in motion the infilling of Alpine Street, south of West Third Street. Langworthy Avenue was laid out prior to 1900 but it was realigned in a re-plat filed August 8 of that year. The north curbline cut through a stable building that was associated with the Lucius Langworthy property but the intention was apparently to move the street further south from the house given that the new curb line also cut across the same outbuilding. The street was relocated 12'7" north on its west end and 10'5" on its east end. Strangely there was no special re‑platting for what became Melrose Terrace. The original plat was filed by Paulina Langworthy on November 4, 1880 and it subdivided the area between Alpine, West Third and West Fifth streets, west of Hill. An alleyway ran along the east half of the future Melrose Terrace and it was subdivided into ten small building lots.

The important role played by the Hill Street And West Dubuque Railway Company in unleashing development on West Dubuque has been underrated in error by at least one historian. The mere fact that the line functioned for most of eight years (1877-84) hints that there was a considerable measure of success. It is also noteworthy that the Hill Street line selected a right- of-way that would later be used by the expanded streetcar company and continues to be used as a bus route today. It is further noteworthy that brothers Edward and Solon Langworthy were two of the original five promoters of the line. While the goal was to serve those resided on the bluff tops to the south of Julien Avenue and Hill Street, its effect was to push development in and around the future district. Regular operations began in mid-July 1877 and the formal dedication took place on July 25 at two stops along the line. The first stop, in front of Edward Langworthy's octagon house at Alpine and West Third witnessed the presentation of a blue banner, inscribed with the name of the engine, to the new railroad. It was sewn by Miss Louisa Rood, a guest of the Langworthys (Edward's daughter Pauline married a Rood). The "ladies of the hill...who recognize the genius of enterprise" also presented each rider with a buttonhole bouquet." A luncheon was served at the second stop, at Alderman John D. Bush's house, at the terminus, Julien and Broad streets.

<† James E. Jaconsen, History Pays!, Langworthy Historic District, 2003, nomination document, National Park Service, Mational Regiter of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.; accessed May, 2021.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
3rd Street West • Alpine Street • Langworthy Street • Melrose Terrace