For Mike Vandenberg, 2401 Central Ave. in Dubuque holds a special meaning.

The address is the former location for the Jule bus barn and Union Electric. It is also where the Dubuque man's father, Harry Vandenberg, worked as a bus driver for three decades.

"My dad drove out of here for 30 years," he said. "I was in part of this building a lot. What I missed the most today was the smell of diesel fumes."

Vandenberg was one of more than 40 people who attended a tour of the facility as a part of Dubuque Main Street's 2019 Architecture Days.

In its 13th year, the multi-day event includes tours and programs that allow the public to learn more about the city's history through its architecture.

Dubuque Main Street program specialist Michaela Freiburger said this year's theme is "Northern Exposure" and the schedule seek to highlight historic architecture of the North End.

The free tours offered as part of this week's events provide an opportunity for residents to experience locations they otherwise might not have access to, she said. 

"What we really try to do is get people into a space they can’t into on an everyday basis," she said, before talking about the former bus barn. "This building was really not something the public had access to, so it provides exposure of this and (to) the history of Dubuque. This lets people know about the secrets that it holds."

Bill Doyle, preservation program manager with Heritage Works in Dubuque, led the tour. He explained that the site's original building had been used since 1867. Additional space for the bus garages and mechanical area were added around the 1930s.

The location first housed the city's horse-drawn streetcars, then its electric streetcars and, eventually, its public transit buses. 

"The streetcar service in 1867 has a 10 cent fare and ran every 20 minutes, which is actually really good frequency, even by today's transit standards," he said. 

The first streetcar line ran along Main Street from what is now Dodge Street to 15th Street, "jogged over to Central" and ran up to 32nd Street, he said. It was in operation until 1900.

Vandenberg said the routes were reminiscent of the ones his father used to drive. He and his two brothers occasionally would tag along for a ride.

"My brothers and I used to go riding with him when he had the 3 (p.m.) to 11 (p.m.), 3 (p.m.) to 12 (a.m.) shift," he said. "So we'd hop on the bus at the top of the street and ride around at night with him. It was usually pretty quiet."

Vandenberg appreciated being in the historic building once again.

"The last time I was in here I was a kid, so this has been really neat," he said.

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