The history found at the Mathias Ham Historic Site is vast and the tales are plentiful. Here is where we hope some of those stories can live on. Shared from the perspective of our historians, enjoy journeying through the life once lived on Lincoln Avenue.
Every city has their claim to fame: Cawker City in Kans. has the world's biggest ball of twine; St. Louis, Mo. has The Gateway Arch, and Newport, R.I. has The White Horse Tavern, which is the oldest operating restaurant in the U.S. Here in Dubuque, we have the oldest existing log cabin in Iowa and west of the Mississippi River.
Originally built around 1827-1828, the cabin was located in what is now downtown Dubuque. Built by L. Arriandeaux, a French fur trader from Canada, it was located at Second and Locust Streets close to St. Raphael Cathedral.
The cabin’s construction style is unusual for the area as it was built using the double room style of cabin known as a dogtrot cabin. The dogtrot style cabin was constructed by connecting two rooms with a covered breezeway. This style was popular in southern states because the breezeway allowed airflow to cool the rooms. This style of construction is still widespread in low-country and coastal architecture in southern states.
Once Iowa was open for settlement, local lore tells us that the Catholic settlers used the cabin as a church during the 1830s, where Father Samuel Mazzuchelli said mass once a month in the cabin. There is also a tale claiming Arriandeaux married the sister of Chief Blackhawk but was killed by Native Americans near Wisconsin. His death is said to be linked to events leading to the Blackhawk War. After his death, his widow sold the cabin to a barber named Samuel Ellmer around 1829. The cabin was then sold in 1831 to lead miners coming to the area. However, according to sale documents, Arriandeaux lived in the cabin until 1833. Documentation of the cabin and its sale can be found in one entry in C.H. Gratiot’s book where it lists a contract in Dubuque:
Dubuque July 13, 1833
Mr. Baptiste LePage bot (bought) of Louis Reando (Louis Arriandeaux) a house and lot; the house to be covered with clapboards (wood shingles) 3 feet shaved, the roof to be put in workmanship manner, he paying me 1 horse, saddle, bridle, collar, and harness valued at $70.00. His house to be delivered in eight days after this date.
Signed with an X for his mark and someone wrote Louis Reando by the X.
The cabin then went through numerous owners over the next years. It was bought by Colonel William Newman in 1834, who owned a blacksmith shop and ran his business from the cabin. It was then sold to Henry Simplot (1840), William Newman (1846), A.A. Cooper (1850), Edward Smyth (1873), and then to William Cooper.
The famous A.A. Cooper, the founder of the Cooper Wagon Works, was an apprentice blacksmith to Newman and lived in the cabin as his first home in 1846. At the end of his apprenticeship, A.A. Cooper bought the cabin in 1850, for $150.
Eventually, the cabin was modernized by the Coopers (as most cabins were) by covering the logs with clapboards and painted white. At one point, A.A. Cooper’s son William Cooper owned the cabin until his death around 1915. After his death, the cabin was slated to be demolished to build a gas station. It was Frederick Bissell who saw the cabin logs hidden under the boards during demolition and decided it should be preserved and moved.
Like other cabins, the clapboards had helped preserve the wood and chinking. When the boards were removed, the original chinking was still in place and was a brownish-red mud or clay. The cabin was moved one log at a time to Eagle Point Park around 1917. The cabin served as a picnic pavilion for 50 years until it was moved to the Ham House site in 1965.
The cabin is currently open to the public Thursday - Sunday, 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend and for special seasonal events.
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