Alfred Caldwell titled his creation at Eagle Point Park, “a city in a garden.” The park sits high atop of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River on the northeast corner of Dubuque. Caldwell’s work at the park was made possible through the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) program to expand and renovate the park. With the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic ideas, Caldwell designed the pavilions, the lily pond, the ledge gardens, council rings, and pathways.
Caldwell constructed three pavilions out of striated limestone pulsating in and out from the vertical plane and simultaneously emphasizing the horizontality of the buildings with low-slung hipped roofs and wide eaves. He produced most of the materials needed on site opening a stone quarry nearby and cutting lumber from the local timber. The pavilions were clustered near the highest point in the park and provided multipurpose meeting rooms, dining rooms, and bathrooms around stone hearths. The bridge pavilion stretches across the main road to create a formal entry to the park.
The buildings are connected with stone terraces, benches, and walls. The organic quality of Caldwell’s design was strengthened by the native plants placed informally around the pavilions and throughout the park. In true Prairie school fashion, Caldwell aimed to blur the distinction between nature and the built environment, particularly with the use of the ledge garden, the lily pool, and the council rings intentionally set to grow out of the hill.
The park won a national W.P.A. design award in 1936, and Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt visited the site during the 1936 presidential campaign. Upon seeing Caldwell’s work, President Roosevelt remarked that “this is my idea of a worthwhile boondoggle.” Caldwell was subsequently fired from this job, just as he would be fired from most of the jobs he would ever have.
Caldwell’s work at Eagle Point Park will be examined and celebrated during Heritage Works’ upcoming inaugural Dubuque Heritage Festival on October 7 and 8. The afternoon on October 7 will feature a symposium for architects, landscape architects, historic preservation professionals and anyone else interested in history, Caldwell’s work or historic landscapes. Friday evening will feature a reception at the Dubuque Museum of Art and the opening of the museum’s exhibit of some of Caldwell’s drawings and other artifacts of Caldwell’s time in Dubuque. Saturday will give the public an opportunity to participate in docent-led tours of Caldwell’s shelters and landscapes in Eagle Point Park. For further information visit: http://heritageworksdbq.com/festival/