Through the Years



The Dubuque County Historical Society (DCHS) is formally organized.


The Mathias Ham House opened as Society headquarters. Gradually, the site around the house would add the Humke Schoolhouse (1969) and the Louis Arriandeaux Log Cabin (1830s).


The founding collection was received from the Richard Herrmann Museum of Natural History. Herrmann was a member of Dubuque’s Old Settler’s Association and a successful early businessman who collected natural specimens and Indigenous objects of culture.


First full-time employee of DCHS, Jerry Enzler, who would shepherd the organization into expansion, was hired. Enzler later served as the founding director of the National Mississippi Museum & Aquarium.


The largest object in the collection arrived via the Mississippi River! The dredge boat William M. Black is permanently moored in the Ice Harbor and is a registered National Landmark.


The Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum opened in the old Burlington Northern Railroad freight house, an original gift from Robert and Ruth Kehl in 1978.


The Dubuque County Historical Society partnered with the National Rivers Hall of Fame to be the repository of its collections and stories. The National Rivers Hall of Fame continues today as a recognition society and an exhibit on awardees is permanently on display in the National River Center building.

1991 – 2001

The Iowa Welcome Center Era
Along with city supporters, DCHS opens and operates one of six Iowa Welcome Centers out of the adjoining Dubuque Casino Bell building. The welcome center occupied the first floor while DCHS supported a second-floor National Rivers Hall of Fame and a third-floor Dubuque Heritage Museum. The first exhibit was Dinosaurs Alive!

1996 – 2009

The Ryan House-era
During this period DCHS owned The Andrew-Ryan House in downtown Dubuque at 1375 Locust St. Built in 1873, the Second-Empire architectural design qualified for placement on the National Register of History Places. DCHS held dinners and gave tours and presentations at the property while renting the lower level for a specialty bar.


The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium opened with the introduction of the William Woodward Mississippi River Discovery Center, named for William “Bill” Woodward who served as president of DCHS from 1991-1995.

2005 – 2015

Old Jail Museum-era
During this decade, DCHS leased space to host exhibits and store archival material in the former Dubuque County Jail. Built in 1857, it is a National Historic Landmark featuring an Egyptian Revival-style architecture. One of only three of this style intact in the country.


Diamond Jo National Rivers Center opens in the former Iowa Welcome Center operated by DCHS. This year also saw the addition of RiverWorks Discovery®, a national program focused on river commerce, culture, conservation, and river-focused careers. It sponsors career fairs, school programs, and more.

The River Museum Today

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023, opened the reimagined Rivers to the Sea exhibit which highlights the local Marshallese community and conservation efforts, and has welcomed nearly 4 million visitors from every state and more than 70 countries.