THE OGEE FERRY ESTABLISHED — ARRIVAL OF JOHN DIXON AND FAMILY — OTHER EARLY SETTLERS — GOVERNMENT LAND OFFICE
AT DIXON — THE TOWN INCORPORATED - IMPORTANT EVENTS IN LOCAL HISTORY — VISITATION OF CHOLERA SCOURGE — DISASTROUS
FIRES — SKETCH OF “FATHER” JOHN DIXON.
In 1828 a Canadian half breed, named Joseph Ogee, built a log cabin and established a ferry across Rock River at
the present site of Dixon. John Dixon had, at this time, a contracy for Carrying the mail between Gelena and Peoria,
and induced Ogee to establish the ferry here on the mail route between the two points. There is authority for the
statement that license was granted Ogee by Jo Daviess County which then embraced Lee County to keep this ferry,
while there is credible authority stating that the ferry was unlicensed.
The banks of the river then sloped gently to the water’s edge, instead of being abrupt as at present. This, it
is said, was at that time the only crossing below Rockford, and the few settlers in that vicinity had to come to
Ogee’s or Dixon’s Ferry for their mail.
In 1829 a postoffice was established at the ferry, and a man by the name of Gay appointed postmaster.
April 11, 1830, John Dixon, with his wife and family of five Children, came tp Dixon, bought Ogee’s claim and ran
the ferry, and in 1834 the name of the postoffice was changed from Ogee’s Ferry to Dixon’s Ferry.
Between the years 1832 and 1836 a plat of a town called Burlington was laid out on a part of the land now included
in Adelheid Park. In the latter year, it had three log houses. Some years ago John K. Robinson wrote that, in 1834,
“a Mr. Kirkpatrick attempted to start a town one and a quarter miles below Dixon, on the place now known as Dr.
Everett’s farm,” and tried to establish a ferry, but beth town and ferry failed. Some time prior to 1840, the “Town
of Oporto” was platted. Its location is not definitely ascertained; but from allusions to it found in early conveyances,
it was probably a small piece of ground on the north side of the river, included in the triangular piece between
Everett and Fellows Streets in Parson’s Addition. Recently the plat of Oporto was discovered among ancient papers
in the Recorder’s Office at Galena, but was so poorly prepared that it gave no assurance of the exact ground it
was designed to fit.
It must be remembered that, prior to 1840, all plats, including the original plat of the town of Dixon, were recorded
at Galena, then, as now, the county seat of Jo Daviess County. The first plat of the Town of Dixon to be recorded
in the Recorder’s Office of Lee County, is found in Book “A” of Deeds, page 62. It was made by Joseph Crawford,
October 28, 1840, for John Dixon, Smith Gilbraith, William Wilkinson, and Bowman and Lane. On the margin of this
plat is a note reading: “Numbers of lots in red ink, are the same as those upon the original plat recorded in Jo
Daviess County." The "red figures" indicate that boundaries of the two plats were alike.
North Dixon was platted as "Town of North Dixon," April 22, 1842, by Joseph Crawford, for and under the
direction of John Dixon.
For his first dwelling, Father Dixon occupied a log cabin partly built by Ogee and extended by himself, standing
at the northwest corner of what is now First and Peoria Streets. It was ninety feet long. The site is appropriately
marked by a bronze tablet, placed in the wall of the building standing on this corner by the Dixon Chapter of the
Daughters of the American Revolution. The original dwelling was torn down in 1845.
In the spring of 1836, the first store was started by Chapman & Hamilton in an addition to Father Dixon's log
house. Prior to this, however, in 1833-4, a man by the name of Martin kept a small stock in the block house forming
a part of the fort on north side of the river. Father Dixon also carried on quite a business, largely with the
Indians, in the principal con4modities in use in frontier life. In 1837 a dry goods store was opened by S. M. Bowman
& Co. on the corner of River and Galena Streets.
Joseph Crawford came to Dixon in the spring of 1835 and located on a farm in the "bend" near Grand Detour.
Dr. Oliver Everett reached Dixon September 3, 1836, which then consisted of four log houses, a frame house, a blacksmith
shop and two or three houses in course of erection.
At the Presidential election in 1836, polls were opened in Dixon for Rock River precinct of Jo Daviess County,
Ogle County not yet having been set off.
In the fall of 1840 the Government Land Office was moved here from Galena. John Dement was made Receiver and Major
Hackelton Register. D. G. Garnsey became Receiver soon after, and John Hogan Register.
In 1841 a small stone two story building was erected on the northwest corner of Ottawa and Second Streets, and
for four years was occupied as the Government Land Office. The office was then moved to a grout two story building
standing at No. 115, Hennepin Avenue. It was taken down about two years ago to give place to the brick building
now occupying the ground. The Land Office remained in that building as long as it was continued in Dixon.
In the winter of 1839-40, J. P. Little and S. G. D. Howard opened a dry goods store on the corner of River and
In June, 1841, William Cullen Bryant, the poet, visited Dixon and, on his return to his brother's home at Princeton,
Ill., wrote of the place, in part, as follows: "Five years ago, two cabins only stood on the solitary shore,
and now it is a considerable village with many neat dwellings, a commodious Court House, several places of worship
for the good people, and a jail for the rogues, built with a triple wall of massive logs, but I was glad to see
that it had no inmates."
In 1841 the now quite dilapidated old frame building on River Street, used as a livery stable (No. 114-116), was
built by J. T. Little and occupied by Little & Brooks as a dry goods store for a number of years, and afterwards
by Webb, Rogers & Woodruff. It was in this store that P. M. Alexander took employment when he first came to
the town, and where he continued to clerk until he embarked in business for himself.
March 20, 1843, an election was held on the question of village incorporation. Forty four votes were cast, all
in the affirmative.
A business roll call of the town of Dixon, In the summer of 1845, would have shown: 6 lawyers, 3 physicians, 5
dry goods and 3 grocery stores, 4 blacksmith and 3 wagon shops, 3 tailors, 2 shoe makers, 1 painter, 2 cabinetmakers,
2 harness shops, 1 bakery, 2 hotels.
In the first issue of the "Dixon Telegraph and Lee County Herald," May 1, 1851, the dam is referred to,
and it is said that "a saw mill is already in operation on the north bank, and a large flouring mill is about
to be erected on the other. A rope ferry is the means of crossing the river, which is in operation night and day.
The stages meet here from almost every direction." A time table of the "Chicago & Galena Railroad,"
published in the same issue, closes with, "stages will connect at Aurora and St. Charles, for Dixon, Albany
and Rock Island."
As early as 1845 Dixon boasted of a "Young Men's Lyceum." July 29, 1851, a brass band of eleven members
was organized, H. T. Noble, H. P. Wickes, B. F. Shaw, Andrew J. Brubaker, Henry Brookner, O. F. Herrick, T. H.
Eustace and A. B. Judd being members.
At the Presidential election November 2, 1852, 327 votes were cast in the precinct, of which Pierce received 185
and Scott 138.
December 18, 1852, the first flour mill on the water power was completed. It was built by Brooks & Daley at
a cost of $15,000.
March 7, 1853, Dixon was incorporated as a town (not city). The first Trustees were John Dixon, A. L. Porter, P.
M. Alexander, Lorenso Wood and L. Wynkoop.
April 16, 1853, the local paper notes that, after the murder of the Mormon high priest, Joseph Smith, his brother
William, with a small band of followers, took up their residence about twelve miles south of town, where they have
kept up their organization and meetings, and that, at the April term of the Circuit Court of that year, William's
suit against his wife for divorce came on and the jury found in favor of the wifC May 4, 1854, he was in jail for
"jumping bail." The "residence" referred to was Palestine Grove, where Mormonism gained quite
a foothold. (See Amboy.)
May 21, 1853, "The Telegraph" records the advent of a milk wagon and dray.
The pioneer "strike" of the community occurred in March, 1854, during the construction of the Illinois
Central Railroad through the town. The hands employed on the work struck for $1.25 a day. Frequent rows and knockdowns
were the accompaniments.
In 1846 the first brick building in the town was erected. It is still standing as Nos. 109 and 111 First Street.
The west half was erected by James and Horace Benjamin, and the east half by A. T. Murphy.
In 1854 one of the buildings which formed the nucleus of the present Grand Detour Plow Works, was erected by John
Dement for manufacturing purposes. In this same year Exchange Block (Nos. 102 and 104 Galena Avenue) was erected
by Stiles, Eustace & Webb, and Nos. 84 and 86 Galena Avenue, were built by P. M. Alexander and J. B. Brooks.
One hundred and thirty buildings were erected in 1855, among which were the brick building, corner of First and
Hennepin (No. 124 First Street), erected by Davis Bros.; "Union Block" (Nos. 105-107 First Street), erected
by Nash & Noble. This was originally four stories high, but in April, 1862, the fourth story being considered
unsafe, was removed. The threestory brick building on the north side of First Street (No. 115) was erected in the
fall of 1856.
In the fall of 1858 C. Godfrey & Sons, who then owned the Brooks & Dailey mill on the water power, completed
the "Farmers' Mill," located on present site of electric power house, lots 2 and 3, Mill Block.
The year 1854 was a very eventful one in the annals of Dixon, not only in matters of growth and development, but
on account of the cholera scourge which afflicted it. There had been a few deaths from the disease prior to July
21, including those of Mrs. Alanson Smith and a few railroad hands; but on the 21st it became epidemic, breaking
out in full force on Saturday the 22d. During that night many of the inhabitants fled into the country. The next
day, Sunday, fourteen victims lay dead in the town. The total number of deaths from July 20th to August 7th by
cholera was 34. Doctors Everett and Abbott, who were in attendance, give the following as the death roll: Mrs.
Patrick Duffee and child, Michael Harris, Mrs. Jacob Craver, Wm. Lahee, Daniel Brookner and wife and Daniel Brookner,
Jr., John Finley, Joseph Cleaver (Postmaster) and cousin of same name, John Keenan, Mrs. Cooley, Marsh, Mrs. Owen's
child, John connels, John Barnes, Elijah Dixon, Wm. Patrick, Benj. Vann, Mrs. Scheer, Cyrus Kimball and wife, Israel
Evans, Mrs. Catherine Dailey, Mr. Peck, Edward Hamlin, Roderick McKenzie and wife, Mrs. Huff, Mr. Jones, Mr. C.
Johnson, Owen Gallinger and E. Boswick.
October 12, 1854, Mr. Ferris Finch was occupied in the painting of the fine portrait of Father Dixon, which for
many years hung in the Court House, and is now in the Public Library.
At an auction sale of town lots, made March 15, 1856, by Brooks, Eddy and Wood, the average price obtained was
$52 a front foot for business property. A corner lot on First and Galena Streets (not stated which corner) brought
$72 a foot. Property bought in 1848 for $225 sold for $3,000.
At the first election under the city charter 298 votes were cast against licensing the sale of liquor, and 170
votes in favor.
June 6, 1855, the Maine Prohibitory Liquor Law was submitted to popular vote and received 318 votes for to 38 against
February 20, 1856, the "Nameless Minstrels" gave a concert, "the proceeds to go towards purchasing
a fire engine for the corporate town of Dixon." The names of J. C. Ayres and H. T. Noble appear among the
In 1856 the excitement over the Kansas-Nebraska issue ran high and $1,000 was raised to aid bona fide emigrants
to Kansas to assist in making it free territory.
July 14, 1858, the Lee County Agricultural Society was organized and held its first fair on fair grounds near the
cemetery, in October of that year. A similar society had been organized February 6, 1854.
July 30, 1858, thern steamer "Rockford" arrived on its first trip up the Rock River.
December 4, 1858, the proposed city charter was submitted to vote of the citizens and by them indorsed. It was
passed by the General Assembly and approved February 19, 1859. Two previous efforts to incorporate had been defeated
at the polls.
August 10, 1859, the North Dixon depot of the Illinois Central Railroad was opened, with George L. Herrick as agent.
April 5, 1860, the "Dixon Improvement Association" was formed for the purpose of improving and beautifying
the city by planting trees, etc.
In the fail of 1862 the Illinois Central Railroad replaced its wooden bridge with an iron one, on the same piers.
The "Quaker City" building (No. 209 First Street) was erected by Isaac Jones in the summer of 1862.
June 22, 1863, a "Society of Vigilance" was organized for the purpose of detecting and bringing thieves
to justice, and reclaiming stolen property.
June 24, 1870, the Dixon Hose Company, No. 1, was organized with about thirty members, H. S. Dey, Foreman and a
week later, the Monitor Hook & Ladder Company was organized with W. N. Johnson as foreman.
June 2, 1870, the Dixon Park Association was formed, and held its first fair that summer on its grounds west of
the city, now included in Maple Park.
January 12, 1871, the City Hall building, (frame) at the corner of Second and Henne.pin Streets, was completed
for use of the fire department
November 30, 1876, the Opera House, erected by H. J. Stevens, F. A. Truman, J. D. Crabtree and W. D. Stevens, was
December 4, 1879, trains commenced running on switch track connecting depots with water power. This track was paid
for by citizens of Dixon with funds raised by subscription.
In 1892 a new frame passenger depot was built by the Illinois Central Railroad Company, about two blocks south
of the old one. The latter, a small brick building, was the first to be occupied by the company and was permitted
to hold its ground until the summer of 1903, when it was demolished.
Old $ettlers.- It is well nigh impossible to give anything like a complete list of the early settlers of Dixon
and immediate vicinity, but the following is offered as a partial roll of arrivals prior to 1850: John Dixon, 1$30;
Joseph Crawford, 1835; Dr. J. B. Nash, 1838; J. H. Moore, 1847; J. V. Eustace, 1843; Isanc S. Boardman, 1837; Oliver
Everett, 1836; Joseph T. Little (who died this summer), 1839; Sally Herrick, who recently died at an advanced age,
sister of Dr. Nash, 1840; Mrs. N. G. H. Morrill, who also died recently, 1838; John Richards and daughter Sarah,
September 1, 1836; John L. Lord, 1838; Noah Beede and son, A. A. Beede, 1836; A. T. Murphy, 1840; Reuben Eastwood
and son Sumner D., 1837; John Dement, 1840; W. W. Heaton, about 1840; Alexanander Charters and son James, 1838;
John Clute, 1840; Philip M. Alexander, 1838; Hiram Hetler and parents, 1837; David H. Law and parents, 1839; Daniel
McKinney and parents, 1846; Andrew J. Brubaker, 1848; John H. Page, 1834; Joseph B. Brooks, prior to May 15, 1844.
Mrs. E. B. Baker (Ann Elizabeth Kellogg) passed through here in 1828 with her father's family; they settled at
Buffalo's Grove (Polo) and she became a permanent settler of Dixon in 1846; Stephen Fuller arrived in 1836; Joseph
Brierton and son Sylvester, 1838. (Wm. S., the son cf Joseph, was born the next year.) Of these all but the following
have passed to the "great beyond:" Mr. Moore, Miss Sarah Richards, Mrs. Murphy, S. D. Eastwood, Mr. Clute,
Hiram Hetler, Dr. D. H. Law, Mr. Brubaker, Mrs. Baker, Mr. Fuller, Sylvester and W. S. Brierton.
Fires.- In 1846 the first recorded fire visited the town, consuming the Phoenix Hotel, Stiles & Eddy's Store
(Bowman's old stand), corner of Galena and River Streets.
October 14, 1859, a disastrous fire occurred extending on both sides of First Street from Hennepin west Seventeen
buildings were destroyed. The estimiated loss was over $50,000; insurance, $10,200.
January 29, 1860, John Dement's machine shop, opposite the Mills on Water Street, was burned out, ruining the machinery,
loss $25,000; no insurance.
March 7, 1861, three buildings on or near the northwest corner of First and Galena Streets were destroyed by fire.
March 3, 1871, three buildings in center of the block on north side of First Street, between Hennepin and Peoria,
were destroyed by fire loss $4,000.
November 30, 1871, St. James Hotel (formerly Shabbona House) was buraed to the ground.
March 12, 1873, the Western Knitting Mills were entirely destroyed by fire loss $20,000. The Flax Factory adjoining
was damaged to the extent of $5,000.
December 7, 1875, a fire broke out in the upper story of Becker & Underwood's Flouring Mill, resulting in a
loss of $13,000. The main building of the Dixon Power & Lighting Company now occupies the ground.
April 8, 1880, the most disastrous fire that ever visited Dixon broke out at one o'clock in the morning, at the
water power. In an hour all the buildings on the north side of the race, were consumed. They consisted of the double
stone building, one half of which was owned by Caleb Clapp and the other half by John Dement - Thompson's Flouring
Mill and that of Becker & Upderwood. The only pumps affording fire protection were on the race in front of
these mills, and they were soon disabled. The Amboy Pire Company, with its engine, was sent for and its timely
arrival and efficient work saved the buildings on the opposite side of the street. When the flames reached the
Becker & Underwood Mill there was a terrific explosion, cause, it was supposed, by the combustion of flour
dust. Men were in the building at the time striving to check the fire, two of whom, Ezra Becker and William Schum,
were killed, while ten others were wounded more or less seriously. The total loss was $190,000; insurance, $66,900.
The interior of the Catholic Church was entirely destroyed by fire May 7, 1887:
On the morning of June 3, 1903, all of the Opera House above the first floor within walls, was destroyed by fire;
insurance paid, $12,000.
Biographical Sketch of Father Dixon.- John Dixon was born in the Village of Rye, Westchester County, N. Y., October
9, 1784. On reaching his majority he moved to New York City where, for fifteen years, he was the proprietor of
a clothing store and merchant tailoring establishment. He was actively interested in the temperance cause and religious
matters, and became one of the directors of the "Young Men's Bible Society of the City of New York,"
organized February 11, 1809. It was the first Bible Society established in the United States, and developed into
the American Bible Society of the present day. When Fulton took his first steamboat on its trial trip up the Hudson,
Mr. Dixon was a passenger and insisted on paying fare against the inventor's protest. He thus came by the distinction,
not only of riding on the first steamboat, but of paying the first fare for such a ride.
Being threatened with pulmonary disease, he left New York in 1820 for the West 'with his wife and children, the
means of transportation being a covered wagon drawn by a single team. On reaching Pittsburg a flatboat was purchased
on which they embarked with their team and belongings, and floated down the Ohio to Shawaeetown, Ill., where they
disembarked and proceeded with their wagon across the trackless prairies to the locality where Springfield now
stands. On Fancy Creek, nine miles from the site of the future capital, he located after over seventy days' journey.
Early the next year Sangamon County was organized. At the first session of Court in the new county, John Dixon
was foreman of the grand jury. In 1825 he was appointed Clerk of the Circuit Court and Recorder of Deeds for Peoria
County, necessitating his removal to Peoria, then also known as Fort Clark. Northern Illinois was not then divided
into counties and, within the territory attached to Peoria County were the voting precincts of Galena and Chicago.
This whole region which now embraces thirty counties, then had but 1,236 inhabitants.
While Mr. Dixon was thus engaged at Peoria, the Government established a mail route from that point to Galena,
crossing Rock River at the present site of Dixon, mail to be carried once in two weeks on horseback. Mr. Dixon
secured the contract. In order to effect safe passage of the mails over the river, he induced a French and Indian
half breed by the name of Ogee to establish a ferry, which was later purchased by Mr. Dixon, who with his family
moved to this point April 11, 1830, and the crossing was thereafter known as "Dixon's Ferry." Whether
this is the same "Joseph Ogee" referred to in the treaty of Prairie du Chien, heretofore quoted, nowhere
appears, but it is highly probable.
The Winnebago Indians were occupants of a large part of the country, and Mr. Dixon soon established business relations
with them and secured their entire confidence which, on the return of the Sacs and Foxes in 1832, proved to be
of great value to himself and family, and he reciprocated with services equally valuable to them. His unflinching
integrity and strict temperance habits served often to protect his dusky friends from the exactions of unscrupulous
traders. Owanico, or "Jahro," chief of the Winnebagoes, became an active disciple of temperance. Even
at that early day, Mr. Dixon's hair was so white that he was known among the Indians as "Na-chu-sa" (the
In 1838 Mr. Dixon was appointed by the Governor of the State one of the Commissioners to carry on the system of
internal improvement then inaugurated, and later was elected to the position by the Legislature. Although the movement
was ill conceived and resulted in ridiculous failure, no fault was ever attached to the Commissioners.
The acquaintance which Abraham Lincoln made with Father Dixon, during the Black Hawk War, was never forgotten by
Mr. Lincoln; and when the great man had been elected President, and before his departure from Springfield to assume
the office, Father Dixon called on him. Mr. Lincoln eagerly recalled the early friendship and volunteered a promise,
unsolicited on Mr. Dixon's part, that he would see, that his old friend was made Postmaster of the city he had
founded; but when the time for the change came, another secured the post. By some political trick the commission
had been obtained without Mr. Lincoln's knowledge. On being apprised of it, the President was indignant and mortified,
"for," he said, "he had promised it to Mr. Dixon." This incident is 'couched for by unquestionable
In 1840 Mr. Dixon visited Washington, his mission being to procure the removal of the Government Land Office from
Galena to Dixon. It is needless to say that he succeeded. He enlisted the interest of General Scott, who had made
his acquaintance while serving in the Black Hawk War, and thus reached President Van Buren, who promptly caused
the desired order to be made.
Mrs. Dixon was a woman of superior attainments, who exerted an active moral and religious influence in the community,
and was a worthy companion for so exemplary a man.
Mr. Dixon died at his home in North Dixon, July 6th, 1876, universally respected and beloved, having nearly attained
his ninety second year. His wife and ten children had all departed before him, but grandchildren and other family
connections were about him and tenderly ministered to him to the last. Though he had once owned the tract on which
the city which bears his name now stands, and had been afforded many opportunities to accumulate a fortune, he
died a poor man. The prevalent craze for speculation seems to have passed him by. He was modest, gentle and retiring
by nature, a great reader and a man of large intelligence. Current events and the affairs of the nation and the
world at large were of absorbing interest to him up to a short time before he was taken. His generosity and public
spirit are well indicated by the fact that, in platting the town of North Dixon, he dedicated Oak Park to public
use, and in laying out the town of Dixon south of the river, he gave Market Square to the public, and donated to
the county the Public Square on which the Court House now stands. It is generally understood that he also donated
80, acres of land adjacent to Dixon to aid in the erection of the first Court House.
His funeral was the occasion of a demonstration seldom accorded a modest, private citizen having no official claims
to distinction. It occurred on Sunday following his death. From all the surrounding towns came delegations and
societies to pay their last respects to his memory. Business houses and public buildings were draped in mourning.
The body lay in state at the Court House under guard of Sir Knights Templar, and for hours the people streamed
by to take a last look at the venerable founder of the town. At a meeting of citizens, held the Friday evening
before his buriai, a touching memorial was adopted, in which the rare tribute was pronounced that he was a man
of great strength of mind, force of character and determination of purpose; yet he had lived and died without an
enemy. Forgetful of himself, he lived for others a pure and unselfish life. He was that "noblest work of God"
- "an honest man" No life admits of a higher encomium, nor can any city boast of a name which should
carry with it, into all the arteries of municipal life, more of manly virtue and civic righteousness than the one
which this noble pioneer gave to the town he founded, and on whose infant life he impressed the seal of his fine
personality. A monument to his memory was erected and dedicated in 1892, in Oakwood Cemetery, by popular subscription,
at a cost of $1,000.
(For further notice of Father Dixon see "Black Hawk War.")
More pages on Dixon History.
The Ogee Ferry Established — Arrival Of John Dixon and family — Other Early Settlers — Goverment Land Ooffice
at Dixon — The Town Incorporated - Importamt Events in Local History — Visitation of Cholera Scourge — Disastrous
Fires — Sketch of “Father” John Dixon.
Distingused Visitors — Lincoln and Jeff Davis — Church History.
To be added later
To be added later