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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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June, 1856. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Proposed route of the Dubuque and Pacific across the United States and Iowa. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Share of stock. Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque
DUBUQUE AND PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY. In 1851 Iowa's senators, George Wallace. JONES and Augustus Dodge proved instrumental in getting the Illinois Central to extend its line from Galena, Illinois to Dunleith (East Dubuque), Illinois. With that assured, Jones, Lucius Hart LANGWORTHY, Platt SMITH, Caleb H. BOOTH, Jesse P. FARLEY, Edward Slossan, Judge John J. Dyer, banker Frederick Jesup and Robert Schuyler and Colonel Roswell B. MASON, first president and chief engineer of the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD formed the Dubuque and Pacific Rail Road which was chartered on April 28, 1853. (1) At the time of its organization, there was not even one mile of railroad constructed in Iowa. Farley was elected the president and Colonel Roswell B. Mason, was made the engineer in chief of the new line. (2) Platt Smith served as the company attorney, Jesup was the treasurer, and Senator Jones was the board chairman.

In May, 1853, one hundred and fifty citizens petitioned the Council to take one hundred thousand dollars stock in the Dubuque & Pacific Railway. The question was submitted to the voters and carried by 466 to 79. The vote in the whole county on two hundred thousand dollars subscription was 954 for and 717 again. New Wine, Concord, Jefferson, Peru, Iowa, Mosalem,White Water, Liberty, Prairie Creek, Cascade and Dodge townships returned majorities against the subscription. The overwhelming vote in Julien township in favor of the project, 666 for to 160 against, carried the question. Work on the road was soon started. (3)

Several Iowa railroads stood to benefit from federal land-grant legislation passed in 1856. The legislation made about four million acres of land, 10% of the state's total, to railroads in alternate square-mile sections six miles deep on either side of the railroads right-of-way. The railroad could do anything they wanted to with the property. It could be immediately sold or kept to sell to settlers after the price had been driven up. The important condition to this "gift" was, however, that the land could not be claimed by the railroad until tracks actually reached the sections to be claimed. Land grants were of no use for the immediate construction of the railroad. Construction funds had to be raised by the sale of stock and bonds. (4)

Financial problems delayed the beginning of construction of the line. People of Dubuque County subscribed to approximately $250,000 in stock, but bonds were sold for as little as fifty cents on the dollar and land and other collateral were accepted in the place of cash. In 1855 all that had been accomplished was a surveyed route several miles west of Dubuque. (5)

In September, 1855, the city voted on taking an additional one hundred thousand dollars stock in the Dubuque & Pacific road. (6)

        The city and county of Dubuque have 
        negotiated a loan of $400,000 by Marie 
        and Kanz, of New York, and F. S. Jesup 
        & Co., of Dubuque. The loan was made 
        to pay the subscriptions of the city 
        and county to the Dubuque & Pacific 
        railroad. The coupons are payable in 
        Berlin, Prussia, and the bonds bear 8 
        per cent interest. They are guaranteed 
        by an equal amount of the stock of the 
        road." — 
       (Express and Herald., November, 1855.) (7)

Colonel Mason resigned as the chief engineer on July 31, 1855. Immediately, however, the "paper railroad" made a contract with Mason, Bishop and Company, headed by Colonel Bishop, to construct a railroad as far west as Dyersville. The first shovel of earth was turned for the project by General Wallace on October 1, 1855. (8) On September 10, 1856 the first locomotive, the "Dubuque", was ferried across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER.

The railroad continued to experience great financial difficulties. If Congress had not passed the Iowa Railway Land Grant Act on May 15, 1856 the project might not have survived the year. (9)

It was not until May 1857 that the railroad reached Dyersville. That train, filled with celebrating people, was pulled by "The Jesse P. Farley," the second engine ferried into Iowa. Since the line was not ballasted, the engine jumped the tracks three times. The trip from Dubuque took three hours. Construction was extended to Earlville until work was stopped because of poor credit, lack of a western terminus, and the PANIC OF 1857. It was also at this time that Senator Wallace, a Democrat, was beginning to lose his legislative power with the rise of the Republican Party.

As the construction reached Earlville, the railroad had almost entirely under the control of Abram S. Hewitt of the firm of Cooper, Hewitt and Company. The railroad had been unable to pay interest on construction bonds held by Hewitt, a director of the Illinois Central. (10) Colonel Mason, serving as a contractor, continued the work west of Earlville to Independence and finished on December 2, 1859. Train service reached Jesup on March 2, 1860. (11)

On June 14, 1859 trustees of the Dubuque and Pacific sold land and town lots at auction. Of the 230,400 acres and 2,000 town lots advertised, nearly were sold. Included in the 2,000 town lots were 100 in Nottingham; 20, Manchester; 318,Matonville; 500, Winthrop; 300, Applington; and 100, Ackley. The sales amounted to $1 million. (12)

In the summer of 1859, John Edgar Thompson, builder of the Pennsylvania Railroad succeeded Jesse P. Farley as president. Colonel Mason was elected vice-president. Holding many of the bonds in default, Morris Jesup, the brother of one of the railroad's founders, forced the railroad into receivership shortly after it reached Jesup. (13) At the time this occurred, the railroad held 1,162,373 acres--its share of the 1856 land grant. (14)

The was reorganized as the DUBUQUE AND SIOUX CITY RAILROAD.

Annual pass.
Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company currency was issued. Notes were signed by James M. McKinlay, secretary in 1858. His signature is also found in the same capacity on the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad notes issued in 1861. Platt Smith, vice president, was the other signer. (15)

A company with the same name was organized in 1896.





1. Silag, Bill. "The Dubuque and Pacific Railroad," Iowa Heritage Illustrated, Summer and Fall 2002, p.116

2. Donovan, Frank P. Jr. Iowa Railroads Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000, p. 103-104

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Association, 1880. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-27-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

4. Silag

5. "Iowa and the Illinois Central," Illinois Central Magazine. November 1927, p. 2

6. Oldt, Franklin T.

7. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Association, 1880. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-11-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

8. "An Illinois Central Photo Album Website," Online: http://www.tdf23.info/html/Railroads/DubuqueAndSiouxCityRailroad.htm

9. "Iowa and Illinois Central," p. 4

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. "Land Sale," Dubuque Herald, June 15, 1859, p. 5

13. Ibid.

14. Sage, Leland. A History of Iowa. Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1974, p. 114

15. Oakes, Dean G. Iowa: Obsolete Notes and Scrip Society of Paper Money Collectors, 1982