Lawson Marine’s main office and marina with the mv. William Lawson assisting a tow through the Sabula railroad bridge
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Lawson Marine Eyes Expansion In Upper Miss Pool 13

On a small island on the western bank of the Upper Mississippi River, at Mile 535.5, about halfway between Davenport and Dubuque, sits the little town of Sabula, population about 500.

Sabula is the only island town in Iowa; the Sandbar Grill is one of its chief restaurants. It’s also the home of Lawson Marine, one of a cluster of family-owned companies. Lawson is the only marine services company in the area, with the exception of ARTCO, downriver in Clinton, Iowa. “We’re the only one that does fleet service in the pool,” said Seth Lawson, chief operations officer and co-owner.

Its boats include the 1,200 hp. William E. Lawson, a triple-screw boat built in 1980 by Louis G. Ortis Boat Company, and the K.W. Duvall, as well as a small truckable tug.

The Lawson family has been in the river business since the mid 1960s. “Originally my grandfather and his partner established Lewis & Lawson Harbor service in Clinton, Iowa, in the 1960s, after realizing the need for a harbor service to service the river industry in that area,” Lawson said. “They stumbled into this service when a local coal dock had a barge breakaway while they were in the area doing some dredging. They were able to use the boat they had on the dredging project to catch the barge and return it to the dock.”

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After this, the Lawsons and the customer saw the value in having a harbor service locally to switch barges in and out of the facilities. As the harbor service grew, they built a drydock (still in operation in Clinton today) and began offering barge repair. This business continued through 1984, when it was sold.

In 1994, Seth Lawson’s mother and father purchased a pleasure craft marina called Island City Harbor. “The facility was in very poor condition when we purchased it. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, our family worked to rebuild all of the docks and other infrastructure. We continue to own and operate this business.”

In 2009, the Lawsons launched into the agricultural millwright industry, building and repairing grain and fertilizer facilities along the major rivers in the country. “As that business continued to grow, we were presented with an opportunity to return to the commercial harbor service business.”

In 2013 Lawson Marine Services began operating the fleet in Savanna, Ill., for a grain terminal, as well as offering bridge assist services at the Sabula railroad bridge.

“With the continued growth of both our marine and construction sides we began offering mechanical dredging and transloading,” Lawson said. “To better serve our customers along the major river systems, we began offering marine construction services in addition to the landside construction services we have offered for years. This allows us to bring our customers an option that truly understands the complete systems our customers need from river receiving/load out to truck or rail receiving/load out.” 

He added, “The company is currently developing operations at the very dock that original barge broke away from back in the ‘60s that our grandfather was able to recover and launched our family down a three-generation business path revolving around our rivers.”

At this dock the company offers direct transfer barge loading and unloading, heavy lift ability, top side barge repair and extensive tug repair. Lawson said, “Our hope is to be offering drydock services at this facility within the year if the customer demand is there.”

Caption for photo: Lawson Marine’s main office and marina with the mv. William Lawson assisting a  tow through the Sabula railroad bridge