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.
A new resource of Dubuque Historic Preservation
For the last several years, those in Dubuque who have been instrumental in completing some of the most innovative historic preservation projects have recognized the need for a local historic preservation nonprofit organization that could be a resource for property owners, businesses, and organizations looking to plan and complete their own historic preservation projects. After a year of intensive planning, Heritage Works, Inc. has been established to fill that need.
I became involved as a historic preservation consultant with the Friends of St. Mary’s shortly after obtaining my Masters in Historic Preservation from the School of the Art Institute in May of 2012. Through the St. Mary’s/Steeple Square project, I met John and Mary Gronen, owners of Gronen Restoration.
The Gronens have been part of ongoing discussions for several years about helping to form a preservation nonprofit focused on Dubuque area restoration projects. In my work over the past couple of years, there has been discussion about some of the barriers that property owners and developers face in trying to plan and complete historic preservation projects. In particular, the financing of historic preservation projects can be daunting, even for those who are familiar with the process. Many important projects do not even get to the planning stage because the technical and financial resources necessary to do the “pre-planning” work are underestimated. As a result, only a handful of property owners and developers in Dubuque have the knowledge and resources necessary to complete historic preservation projects.
In our discussions, we felt that historic preservation in Dubuque could be taken to the next level if there was a nonprofit organization that gathered all of the best practices from prior successful restoration projects and assembled a network of professionals who could impart their prior knowledge and experience to others. The organization could also mine technical and financial resources from throughout the United States for the purpose of promoting transformative projects in Dubuque’s historic neighborhoods.
John and Alice Butler have been long-time staunch advocates of historic preservation, both at the local and national level. Because of their past experience with preservation projects in Dubuque and their active involvement on the National Trust for Historic Preservation Council, the Butlers were keenly aware of the importance of vital technical and financial resources in completing quality restoration projects. They expressed an interest in helping to fund a non-profit historic preservation organization if an operationally viable and financially feasible business plan could be developed for the organization.
A planning team was assembled that included the Gronens, City of Dubuque Manager Mike Van Milligan, and President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Nancy Van Milligan. The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and Gronen Restoration paid for the planning services of Preservation Design Works in Minneapolis, MN to help organize the framework of a preservation organization. The Gronens enlisted my help as historic preservation consultant to conduct research and to assist in the development of the business plan. Jerry Huguelet, then a Loras College student interning at Gronen Restoration, also provided valuable research and assistance with the business plan.
The goal of the organizational planning was to borrow successful programming from other preservation organizations throughout the country, but also to break the mold and create an innovative and entrepreneurial organization that would not only talk about the importance of preservation, but also engage in transformative historic property redevelopment projects that would show the tangible benefits of historic preservation in the Dubuque community.
The Butlers also strongly believe in education as a vital component in forwarding Dubuque preservation efforts. So the planning group endeavored to incorporate education and training into many of the programming proposals. The Butlers view Dubuque’s historic buildings and neighborhoods as a laboratory to help youth and interested adults gain vocational training and experience in developing skills in the traditional building trades, such as historic masonry repairs, historic carpentry, historic plaster repair, and stained glass restoration.
Heritage Works, Inc. is the result of over a year of thoughtful planning. Heritage Works’ startup and first years of operations are funded through the generous support of John and Alice Butler. We will begin immediately working to gain broad public support to assure long-term viability.
The name “Heritage Works” encapsulates all of what we hope to accomplish as an organization. The word “heritage” means a collective knowledge that is acquired or transmitted from predecessors. Each generation adds to heritage and passes it on. Heritage is dynamic and transformative. The word “works” has several meanings. As a verb, it means “to act or operate effectively.” As a noun, it means “a place where something is accomplished or produced.”
Heritage Works will strive to use Dubuque’s history as a transformative, effective, economic development tool so that Dubuque’s past and present can be transmitted to future generations.
Heritage Works will also be a “think tank” whose purpose is to develop innovative tools and methods of restoring and transforming Dubuque’s historic buildings and neighborhoods as well as the lives of the people who inhabit them. Heritage Works will be most effective when it partners with other organizations that have developed successful programming that will assist in meeting Heritage Works’ mission. Friends of St. Mary’s, through its Steeple Square Project, is engaged in a project that will transform the Washington Neighborhood, fitting squarely within the mission of Heritage Works. They also have developed programming to use the restoration of Steeple Square buildings as an opportunity to train those wanting experience in traditional building trades.
Four Mounds Foundation has a track record of developing successful educational programming to give hands-on training opportunities to at risk youth, as evidenced by the transformative HEART program. As one of its first projects, Heritage Works saw an opportunity to assist Four Mounds in developing a program to utilize local Dubuque high school students in the St. Mary’s window restoration project sponsored by Friends of St. Mary’s. As a result, all of the partner organizations are able to enhance their respective missions.
Heritage Works will strive to be a vital resource to assist those who want to harness historic preservation as an engine of economic development. We believe that Dubuque has only begun to tap its rich heritage to continue its nationally known reputation as a vibrant place to live, work, and play.
As published in Julien’s Journal. View article here.
Work on stained-glass panels is part of the transformation of the historic St. Mary’s Church campus into apartments, a community center and more.
Andi Exo watched intently Wednesday as John Clark, of Chicago’s Restoric LLC, removed saddle bars from a stained-glass window panel, flooding light into St. Mary’s Church through a gaping hole where a depiction of the saint once shone.
“It’s been amazing,” said Exo, a Restoric employee who flew in from Philadelphia to take part in the stained glass restoration. “The church is beautiful and the windows are irreplaceable. We’re trying to be really careful. It’s a little nerve-racking.”
Across the church, Mark Radina, with Radina Glass Studio in Aurora, Ill., and Neal Vogel, with Restoric LLC in Chicago, gingerly worked on scaffolding to remove another stained-glass panel depicting Mary’s life.
“To work on (Munich-style) Zettler stained glass like this has been incredible,” said Roseanne Ghazarian, a graduate student in historic preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Unlike other stained-glass panels with smaller pieces of colored glass held in a leaded framework, Munich-style panels are pieces of colored glass with detailed paintings on the surface.
“It’s not every day that you get to work on something of this level of quality,” Clark said. “And the setting is just absolutely beautiful.”
The parish was closed by the Dubuque Archdiocese in 2010, ending 150 years of worship at the German-Catholic church.
Wednesday’s work marked part of a restoration effort by The Friends of St. Mary’s, a coalition of business and community leaders who last year announced plans to transform the historic campus into apartments, a community center and office, retail and green space.
Dubbed Steeple Square, the project lacks a definitive time line and price tag. However, plans are being finalized to convert the Jackson Street school into 12 two- and three-bedroom apartments, according to historic-preservation consultant Duane Hagerty.
“We are raising money to start that project, hopefully, either by the end of the year or early next year,” said Hagerty, the CEO of Heritage Works. “There would be opportunities for all levels of income to live in that building, including some market-rate apartments, but we are not entirely sure what that makeup will be.”
Hagerty hopes to begin repairs on the church’s steeple by the end of this year or early next year, and will be raising money to complete that project.
The nonprofit organization also received a grant from the Dubuque Racing Association for interior repairs and upgrades to make church bathrooms and an entrance accessible for people with disabilities. Hagerty said those repairs should be completed by next spring.
“We already have people showing an interest in having their wedding here next summer and should be ready to do that once we get all of this interior work done,” he said.
Project manager John Gronen, of Gronen Restoration, said he anticipated an announcement in coming weeks with more details and the launch of a public fundraising campaign.
Heritage Works enlisted the help of Four Mounds Foundation and stained-glass conservators to bring in interns, apprentices, graduate students and high school students, using the restoration project to provide vocational training in historic preservation and building trades.
As a result, the nonprofit organization cut what was nearly an $80,000 price tag to replace the two large Gothic windows by more than half, according to Marketing and Operations Manager Rachel Wilberding.
Among the workers was Jacob Stele, 19, of Dubuque. A graduate of the Alternative Learning Center, Stele said he intends to pursue a career in construction.
He said he enjoyed learning the church’s history while helping restore its luster and earning certification in stained-glass removal and restoration from Northeast Iowa Community College in the process.
“People like Eagle Window and Door eat that up,” he said. “It’s just something helpful for right now because I don’t know what I want to do.”
Chris Olson, executive director of the Four Mounds Foundation, plans to use the church project to build a local “pool of talent” trained in historic restoration.
“We have such a wealth of historic buildings in our community, but the knowledge and skills base (for historic preservation) is fairly small,” Olson said.
Restoration work will continue through Monday.
As published in Dubuque Telegraph Herald. View article here.