New Melleray Abbey Monastery
Built: 1867 – 1870
Located in Peosta, Iowa at 6632 Melleray Circle
Corner view of the pointed windows and detailed stone work
Architect John Mullany is credited with the design of New Melleray Abbey. The New Melleray Abbey began with the Trappist monks who had left their home at the Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland. The monks left Ireland in the midst of the Great Famine in the late 1840s. Sailing to North America in search of a monastic site, they eventually came to the Iowa frontier, east of Dubuque where Bishop Loras offered them six hundred acres of land to settle. John Mullany’s brother, Patrick also emigrated to the United States and the Dubuque area. Patrick entered the Trappists, taking the name Brother Stanislaus. He was one of the original monks who founded the New Melleray Monastery at Peosta.
North Tower of the Abbey
Mullany’s plans called for four buildings of stone to be erected in the form of a square surrounding a court one hundred feet long by one hundred feet wide. An 1871 Dubuque Daily Times article noted that “the stupendous monastery at New Melleray will be gazed upon, written about and pondered over by generations yet unborn. It is, in reality a gigantic pile of stone and mortar, tower and pinnacle, and when fully completed, according to the programme laid out by the projectors, will cover not less than three acres of ground, and with the exception of its twin brother in Nelson County, Kentucky, will be the largest institution of the kind in the world.”
The southern wing was intended to be the location of an imposing abbey church. However, only the north and east buildings were constructed according to Mullany’s plans. The north wing was originally intended to be the refectory, but became the Abbey church. It remains a stunning example of Gothic Revival design with its stone construction and pointed arch windows.
Built: 1864; Rebuilt and relocated 1873; Relocated – 1971
Located on Main Street at Town Clock Plaza
The Dubuque Town Clock is another distinguished landmark of downtown Dubuque. The clock currently operates in the Town Clock Plaza on Main Street. Dubuque’s first town clock was initially erected in 1864 on top of the John Bell and Company store, a building on the west side of Main Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. In 1872, the foundation of the building holding the clock gave way and the clock came crashing down on the Bell building.
(Photo Credit: Bob Reding, Encyclopedia Dubuque)
Later in 1872, the mayor and finance committee met to determine the fate of the town clock and tower. They decided to award the commission to design and construct the new clock and tower to John Mullany, provided he complete the project in 30 days. The clock was to be placed on top of a new building on Main Street between 8th and 9th streets, designed by architect Fridolin Heer. According to an 1872 Herald article, Mullany’s Town Clock “is built of brick, three stories high, faced with heavy stone caps, lintels, corners, etc. and is an ornament to the street. The style of architecture appears to be a mixture of the Gothic and Corinthian.” In 1970, the clock was removed from the Town Clock Building and relocated to the Town Clock Square as the centerpiece of the downtown redevelopment effort. The clock tower and clock were set atop a 100-feet tall concrete tower and rededicated in its new prominent home in August, 1971.
(1872 Sheffield Bell inside the Town Clock |Photo Credit: David Johnson, City of Dubuque Planning Department)
(Inside the Town Clock |Photo Credit: David Johnson, City of Dubuque Planning Department)
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
Built: 1864 – 1867
Located at the Northeast corner of E. 15th and White Streets
St. Mary’s (circa 1860)
By 1863, the German immigrant population of Dubuque was increasing dramatically. The membership of the Holy Trinity parish had outgrown its stone church that Bishop Loras dedicated in 1850 for the German speaking Catholics. Therefore, the parish formed the German Roman Catholic Building Association in order to construct a new church, supporting buildings, and to raise funds for the project. The parish purchased five lots from the Langworthy Estate, (a prominent Dubuque family) and hired John Mullany as architect to design the church. Interestingly, Bishop Clement Smyth chose an Irish architect to design a church for the expanding German parish. Mullany had already proven his experience in designing St. Raphael’s Cathedral and thus built a close relationship with Bishop Smyth earning him the commission.
St. Mary’s from a view (circa 1860)
St. Mary’s is designed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture, particularly the tower and steeple with its tiers, spirelets, finials and other decorative details. It is 250 feet in height, the tallest steeple in the region. Early descriptions of Mullany’s design for St. Mary’s reference the Salisbury Cathedral in England as his model. However, it is most likely that he drew his inspiration from Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s design for St. George Cathedral, the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark, London, (the St. George tower was never built due to lack of funds). Mullany was strongly influenced by Pugin’s work in Gothic Revival architecture. St. Mary’s is one of the oldest remaining high-style Gothic Revival church buildings in Iowa. The interior includes lavish decoration and stained glass windows from the F.X. Zettler Company of Munich, Germany, one of the premier art glass companies of the period.
St. Mary’s endured and enriched the lives of its parishioners for 143 years. In 2009, the St. Mary’s parish council voted to recommend to the Archdiocese of Dubuque, that the parish close after years of declining membership, lack of funds, and deteriorating facilities. On May 25, 2010, St. Mary’s celebrated its final Mass, ending a legacy that began in 1867. Although the interior liturgical furnishings have been removed from the Church, it does retain its interior architectural decoration such as windows, murals, stencils and paintings.
Inside of St. Mary’s (circa 2010)
Through a local community effort in conjunction with the Friends of St. Mary’s, an extensive renovation and restoration of the church and the entire block is currently underway. The restoration will revive the St. Mary’s campus into Steeple Square and kindle a resurgence of the Washington Neighborhood. Please see the Steeple Square website for further information on the restoration project. Click here for a video discussing the history and architecture of St. Mary’s.
St. Raphael’s Cathedral
Built: 1857 – 1861
Located at the intersection of W. 2nd and Bluff Streets
St. Raphael’s Cathedral is John Mullany’s first notable design accomplishment in Dubuque, although the construction may have caused him more grief than triumph with the Financial Panic of 1857 and the tightening of financial support to achieve his initial design. The cathedral is modeled after Magdalen College in Oxford, England. The cornerstone was laid in July of 1857 and the building was completed in 1861. It was over three times larger than its predecessor and witnessed its first Mass, offered by Bishop Loras two months before his death, on Christmas 1857. The cathedral received its formal dedication and blessing on July 7, 1861.
Old Postcard of St. Raphael’s Cathedral
Interior of the Cathedral (circa 1886)
Mullany’s design for the cathedral was 83 feet across the front, with a limestone façade and brick sides. The steeple and tower area were to be 243 feet high. The architectural style is predominately Gothic. The building’s most unusual feature is the lancet window at the base of the tower. Mullany also designed the elaborate altar screen that still exists today, though substantially modified. There are two entrances at the side of the tower within the body of the building. In Mullany’s original design these two entrance walls were to have terminated in their own gables, with high pinnacles at each of the corners. Mullany also had projected a tall, thin spire roof, but a more abridged 243-foot-high square tower was eventually added in 1876 through a fund-raising effort.
Close up of the Cathedral Screen (circa 2016)
By May 1871, the fund-raising effort to complete the tower had only raised $5,000 of a projected $30,000. In 1872-73, when it was realized that the Cathedral’s foundations would not support a tower of Mullany’s intended height, construction was again halted. Mullany ceased to be associated with the Cathedral at this point and went on to other projects. The 1876 revision of the tower was topped with four pinnacles, instead of Mullany’s planned steeple of cut limestone.
Heritage Works is excited to announce its “Architect of the Month” feature. For the next twelve months, we will showcase a different architect on our website and all of our social media outlets. Each featured architect is noted as contributing a prominent and lasting legacy to the landscape of the Dubuque area. These monthly postings offer the public an opportunity to learn more about Dubuque architecture, preservation, and the efforts to maintain our unique treasures. It is likely that you have traveled the streets of downtown Dubuque and noticed a unique building or an interesting ornate detail of a building and wanted to learn more. Hopefully our highlighted architects and their unique landmarks will provide a context for your next stroll through downtown Dubuque. Follow along with us as we explore the rich architectural landscape of Dubuque through the various architects that built these landmarks nestled between the bluffs and the Mississippi River.
Heritage Works is proud to showcase the July Architect of the Month, John Mullany, architect of St. Raphael’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Melleray Abbey Monastery, and the Town Clock.
John Mullany (1813 – 1884), is considered one of Dubuque’s finest architects with his distinctive use of Gothic Revival style of architecture. The Gothic Revival style is part of the mid-19th century picturesque and Romantic Movement in architecture, reflecting the public’s taste for buildings inspired by medieval design. The most commonly identifiable feature of the Gothic Revival style is the pointed arch, used for windows, doors, and decorative elements like porches, dormers, or roof gables. Gothic Revival came to America from England, particularly through church architects who were strongly influenced by popular architects, such as, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pugin promoted the idea that a Gothic style church was the only suitable structure for Christian worship. He was the architect of many Gothic Revival English and Irish churches of the mid-nineteenth century.
Mullany was born on July 30, 1813 in Cahir, County Tipperary in Ireland. Mullany’s father was an architect/builder, so it was natural that Mullany grew to excel in the trade. Perhaps most influential to Mullany’s life as an architect came in 1840 when he and his wife moved to England where he worked and studied under Augustus Pugin for approximately four years. Pugin’s Gothic Revival influence is quite evident in Mullany’s buildings in Dubuque, (St. Mary’s, St. Raphael’s Cathedral, and New Melleray Abbey). Mullany immigrated to the United States in 1847 and moved to Dubuque, Iowa in 1857, initially joining the Leeman and Keenan firm of building. Of Mullany’s three known surviving Gothic Revival structures in Dubuque, St. Mary’s is Mullany’s masterwork; his best example of the Gothic Revival style and Augustus Pugin’s influence on the design.