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Dubuque County Jail

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1857–1858, John F. Rague. Southeast corner of Central and 8th streets
  • Dubuque County Jail (David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim)
  • Dubuque County Jail (National Historic Landmarks/National Park Service)

The feeling that incarceration was a form of death and burial led in the nineteenth century to the use of Egyptian architectural forms for prisons and jails. Iowa's only example is this small two-story jailhouse designed by John Francis Rague. Rague, who designed the Illinois and Iowa capitol buildings, normally showed a predilection for the Greek Revival. Having lived in New York, the architect most likely knew of the “Tombs” prison (1835–1838), which may have been his inspiration. Essentially Rague's building is a Greek Revival house detailed with a few convincing Egyptian details: a pair of Egyptian “bundle papyriform” columns within the recessed entrance, carved heads for the windows, and a bold and wide “gorge” cornice, a type of cornice that is deeply indented. A few of the original window lintels still reveal winged-sun disks in the form of lion's heads. The walls of the jail are of a rough limestone; in strong contrast, the frames of the doors and windows are in cast iron. Within, there are tiers of cells, each of the cells measuring only 4 feet 4 inches wide by 10 feet long.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim


What's Nearby


David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim, "Dubuque County Jail", [Dubuque, Iowa], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Iowa, David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 81-82.

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