Few locations in the Midwest carry the color and history of Lot One. Earliest records indicate that what is now known as First & Main was an intersection where horses, wagons, trappers, miners, river people, lumbermen, brewers, bankers, and people from all walks of life passed by daily.
In 1835, 13 years before Iowa became a state, a “lot of ground known as Lot No. 1 was surveyed by George W. Harrison.” In 1838, The Timothy Fannings mortgaged Lot No. 1 on their property known as the “Jefferson House,” a hotel/tavern. Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa, and First and Main is the first lot to be designated in the Town of Dubuque, County of Dubuque, Territory of Iowa-hence the name, Lot One.
An 1839 U. S. Congressional appropriation provided funds to build a “Military Road” from Dubuque to the northern Missouri border. And guess where it started: Lot No. 1. The route was laid out by an engineer-surveyor, who hired a Cascade, Iowa, farmer to mark the road with a single plowed furrow (basically today’s Highways #151 and #1).
By 1840 Timothy Fanning and Arthur Conway were officially recorded as owners. Apparently the hotel portion on Lot No. 1 was known as the Jefferson House; however, most people simply referred to the location as “Tim Fanning’s Log Tavern.”
So popular was the hospitality of the tavern that the state’s first St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held there. As described in My Old Dubuque:
The first celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the State of Iowa was held in the city of Dubuque on March 17, 1838. . . . Sixty gentlemen sat down to a festive dinner . . . at the Fanning Hotel. . . . Thirteen toasts were raised to the occasion.
Between the late 1840s-1890s, Lot No. 1 passed through various hands. On one occasion (in 1870) the heirs drew lots to determine who would inherit the property located in the hub of Dublin or Little Ireland as the section of Dubuque was often referred to at the time due to the number of Irish settlers in the area.
Lot No. 1 was then owned by a local brewing company and later became one of the first and largest “Wholesale Automotive Equipment” businesses around. The present structure was erected in 1918.
In 1937, the Torbert Drug Company purchased the building now known as Lot One and ran what was thought to be one of the most modern operations in the country at the time, filling pharmaceutical orders via an intricate series of communications throughout the five floors of the building, delivering the filled orders to the first floor by way of a metal spiral slide that extended from the fifth floor to the first. Part of that slide has been preserved.
Also in 1937, the Iowa Daughters of the American Revolution attached a bronze plaque on the Main Street side of the current building. It reads:
Site of Tim Fanning’s Log Tavern, terminus of The Old Military Road from Dubuque to the Northern Boundary of Missouri. Authorized by Congress 1839.
The building’s interior northern wall was at one time an exterior wall to the Dennis Brothers Feed & Seed (which was destroyed by fire in 1999). The remains of the advertisement painted on the wall was to promote Pillsbury’s Better Bread. Renovation of Lot One under the new owners began in 2002 and continues.
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