Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Internal Improvements in Lee County, Illinois

It was the policy of the Board of Public Works of Illinois, to build the proposed great north and south railroad in sections, here and there, in order to keep the various settlements in a tranquil state of mind. Dixon's Ferry was given more than its due proportion, and instead of building from both sides of a stream as was the policy of the commissioners, in Lee, they built altogether from the south bank of Rock river, southward, and clear through the county to its southern boundary. That circumstance indicates to us of today the commanding position of Dixon's Ferry in Illinois affairs, although it contained but a house or two or three at the time. And it indicates also the commanding influence of John Dixon as a factor in the business and political affairs of Illinois.

When in 1837-8 and -9, these works were going forward, the engineers of the state occupied a building on First street as their headquarters. It has been mentioned once, but repetition here will not be uninteresting.

In 1835, James Wilson built a blacksmith shop of logs on First Street, on the spot occupied by the present Dixon Telegraph building and its neighboring building to the west. The building did not reach the comer. I would say the west wall of the Telegraph building would measure approximately the center of the old log building. In 1837 this building received a floor, and it was used to hold therein the only term of court held in what comprehended the territory of the old Ogle of Lee and Ogle Counties.

This building, on the south side of the street, was perhaps twenty feet long, east and west, and when the grade was cut down to its present level, rather than pare down the entire lot even with the street, as at present, a stone basement or ground floor story was built under the building to reach the street level, so that thereafter the building became a two-story building. The upper one of logs was sided and in its altered form, it gave out the appearance of a very elaborate structure.

The appointment of John Dixon as a member for the Sixth Judicial District of the Board of Public Works, gave to Dixon's Ferry a still more commanding position.

Large quantities of stone, much of it dressed for proposed outside use in building piers and abutments in bridges over streams, including Rock River, were hauled, into Lee County and deposited along the route of the proposed railroad and in Dixon a very large amount of material was left.

In reports for subsequent years, made by the commission, it is interesting to notice the orders made for the public sale at Dixon, of those materials. The grade made through Lee county began at the south bank of Rock River where Hennepin Avenue intersects, the same and ran southerly, crossing the south line of Lee not far east of the Dad Joe house. To this day it may be traced overland for every foot of its ancient course and so too may it be traced easily from the old first map of Lee County made in 1863 by Joseph Crawford and Jason C. Ayres.

Originally it was planned to have a wagon road run alongside its alignment on the northeasterly side, but with the abandonment of the project, the grade was appropriated instead and was retained for many years. Between Dixon and the Northwestern right of way, it is used today as at first. Beginning at the junction of Hennepin avenue with the river the grade was designed to run south on the avenue to the library comer where it curved towards the east, passing through the jail block and the intervening blocks between that and Seventh street and Chicago road, just east of the Keyes residence. Here as a matter of fact, the actual grading began for its southward journey. Beyond the right of way of the Northwestern, it paralleled the present Chicago road until the Clarence Smith place is reached at the top of the hill, where it continued southerly between the Smith house and the White Temple schoolhouse. A short distance further on it followed the Peru road. On the farm north of the county farm, the channel by the roadside is well defined still, and the right of way passed through the dooryard of the county farm, running not far west of Shelburne and the Joseph G. Hall farm; further south, it ran through Maytown by the diagonal road that passes the spot occupied by the old Academy before its destruction. It is today a clean cut trace, with the few exceptions where intervening ridges appear. No doubt these appear because when the various gangs working towards each other got orders to quit, their work had not met the work of the approaching gang. It may be interesting to know that Sterling made desperate efforts to secure the location of the Central road at that place. The counter petition which was presented by John Dixon is now owned by Edward H. Brewster and reads as follows:

To the Honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Illinois,

Your petitioners,
Citizens residing on Bock River and vicinity understanding that a petition has been or is about to be presented to your Honorable body representing that the Central Rail Road or that part of the same from Rocky ford to Savannah crossing Rock River at Dixon is located on unfavorable ground, occasioning a longer and more expensive route &c &c., to which we would respectfully protest.

And would add, that whatever may be the feelings of a few interested individuals at Sterling, we are of the opinion that that part of the Central Rail Road alluded to, has been judiciously located, answering both the interest of the finances of the State and that of a very large majority of the Citizens of the Rock River Country.

Authentic information on this Subject is in reach of your Honorable body, to which we would respectfully refer you. In the reports of the Engineers, duly appointed to examine and Survey Said Road, information will be found properly attested. And your petitioners have too much confidence in the good sense and judgment of our Legislature than to suppose the representations of a few individuals should have much weight against all the evidence in your possession to the Contrary.

Praying that your honors will Consider said petition for what it is worth, Your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray

T. D. Boardman
C. Brookner
Smith Gilbraith
John Neumeyer
Jos. Crawford
Nelson Douglass
Charles Edson
R. B. Loveland
D. C. Stevens
Wm. Seaward
John Van Arnam
J. Campbell
Nelson Barnes
John G. Bellanger
Thomas McCabe
J. H. Page
Noble P. Bassett
S. M. Bowman
Oliver Everett
Nathan Whitney
Asa W. Stowell
Ab'm Cool
G. B. Dills
A. M. Braley
Jos. Hartman
C. F. Ingals
J. S. Boardman
C. A. Lane
P. M. Alexander
John C. Oliver
Simon Fellows
Ahuh Moulton
Samuel M. Fellows
James Power
John Morgan
Jacob Martin
S. T. Martin
Wm. W. Tilton
O. A. Hubbard
W. P. Burrough
Alanson Smith
T. H. Burroughs
Orin Skeel
C. W. McNaughton
E. Morgan
Geo. W. Chase
J. M. Hamilton
E. S. Wing
Wm. A. Fraser
E. W. Dutcher
Thomas Dexter
Michael Homer
Zachariah Phillips
J. D. McComsey
Harvey Wordle
Isaac Griffeth
William Kennedy
William Lane
Stephen Fuller
I. P. Mallock
Alfred Cogswell
Jas. McKenney
R. McKenney
David Brown
Ebenezer H. Johnson
John A. Burton
William Marsh
William Mackay
D. B. McKenney
Homer Preston
John McKenney
Frederick R. Dutcher
0. H. Chessman
Henry Turrel
Horace Benjamin
John Wilson
Jas. P. Dixon
F. A. Martin
Wm. G. Frasier
Carlton Meliners
F. W. Coe
W. S. Coe
Stem Mason
William Miers
Harvey Morgan
Isaac Morgan
Wm. W. Beach
I. T. Martin
David Hill
Wm. Martin
A. L. Porter
M. Fellows
I. M. Johnson
Triton Swera
John Dexter
John Montieth
Edward Crosby
J. T. Little
C. D. Howard
Daniel Reichwaz
Sam'l Nobling
John G. Peabody
Austin L. Bull
Nathaniel Browning
Gardner Robinson
E. W. Hine
Carter MeCumsey
William Thompson
J. Tharp Lawrence, Jr.
John McAllister
F. C. Whitney
James Benjamin
Isaac Robinson
C. Brookner
Hiram Vanpatten
John W. Dixon
Peter McKenney
Jas. De Pui
J. B. Chatham
John Crosby
Joshua Cameron
Elisha Crosby
J. B. Nash
Noah Beede
Dan'l Carpenter
Al. Fender
Wm. Dolan
W. W. Bethea
Josef Lorimer
Solomon Fender
Wm. McKenney
Wm. Miller
Daniel McKenney
John Belanger
N. G. H. Morrill
Horace Thompson
L. S. Huff

Dixon prevailed. Beyond doubt, Mr. Dixon's appointment in 1838 as member of the Board of Public Works had much to do with the defeat of Sterling's aspirations.

The Tenth General Assembly, of which Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were members, reduced to a point resembling system the vast numbers of inane theories which the people demanded, and Stephen A. Douglas was the member whose resolutions permitted it to be done. The Illinois and Michigan canal project by this time had proceeded a considerable distance. This scheme, however, should not become confused with the internal improvement schemes. The canal scheme may be said to date back when Representative Pope laid off the boundaries for the new state and in January (22), 1829, when the act was passed providing for the appointment of commissioners to fix upon the route.

The year 1837 was the year of the Douglas resolutions and the beginning of active preparations for work. The bill which was passed at last, over the objections of the council of revision and the Governor's objections, appropriated the enormous sum of $10,200,000. Of this sum, $100,000 was appropriated for the improvement of Rock River, and for the railroad (through Dixon's Perry) from Cairo to Galena $3,500,000 was appropriated. This latter was the most important of the list and received the largest appropriation, and in the distribution of the $5,668,000 which was realized from the sale of bonds, the sum of $1,142,027 was placed in the hands of the commissioners of public works to spend; about one half the sum appropriated by the bill.

Thus for a short while over two years, the insane mania proceeded. In 1839, the people awakened to the fact that they were in debt over $17,000,000 and had nothing to show for it but a few grades and cuts and the great internal schemes collapsed. Lee County was favored more than any other northern county in the way of railroad grades and the Central Railroad languished until Senators Stephen A. Douglas and Sidney Breese, in the United States Senate, later secured the land grant which permitted the Illinois Central Railroad to be built through Lee County, not very far away from the old grade of fifteen or sixteen years before.

The scrip used in payment for labor and material depreciated to a ruinously small figure. I have secured a piece of it to reproduce here as an illustration.

Lee County History


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