Also known as: Dredge WILLIAM M. BLACK
E. 2nd St., Dubuque, Iowa



Photo taken by J.R. Manning in May 2013




Constructed in 1934, this steam-propelled, sternwheel dustpan dredge is one of a handful of such vessels preserved in this in this country. Black played a major role in the improvement of the Missouri River system, where dredges deepened and redirected the Western rivers, fought levee failures to prevent floods, and allowed the spread of navigation to regions previously inaccessible. She was decommissioned in 1973. -- National Historic Landmark statement of significance, April 27, 1992

The William H. Black Links to the Past 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Dredge William H. Black is a decommissioned side-wheeler steamboat, built and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It is now permanently moored in the Ice Harbor in Dubuque, one of the last steamboats constructed before the advent of diesel power, making it a last link to the colorful era of steam-powered navigation on United States rivers.

The 277 foot long vessel was constructed by the Marietta Manufacturing Company in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, contracted by the Corp of Engineers. It was built in 1934, one of the last steam-powered side-wheelers constructed. The smokestacks bear the Corps of Engineers indicia.

The paddle wheels weigh 32 tons each and are 25 feet in diameter. They are driven by two reciprocating steam engines while the dredge mechanism is driven by a 1300 horsepower triple expansion steam engine.

The Black is a dustpan dredge. It acts like a large vacuum cleaner, loosening silt with high powered water jets, the silt is then pumped up to a jettison pipe that deposits the silt to side, away from the navigation channel. Modern dredges are diesel powered and perform the same function the same way the Black did in its heyday, albeit the modern ships being much more efficient.

The Black's massive power is what doomed the ship. Using up to 7,000 gallons of oil per work day, the vessel became too expensive to operate and was retired in 1973. The black kept navigation lanes open on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and tributaries that still carry millions of tons of freight each year.

Although the William H. Black is retired from service, today it is a museum that is open for tours, and even serves as a bed and breakfast.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 12, 1982
Reference number
Architectural style
Other architectural type; Sidewheeler steamboat
Areas of significance
Architecture; Transportation; Maritime History; Engineering
Levels of significance
National; State
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction; A - Event
Property type
Historic function
Current functions
Water-related; Museum
Period of significance
Significant year

Update Log 

  • September 27, 2013: New photos from Jim Allen
  • May 27, 2013: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • May 27, 2013: New photos from J.R. Manning