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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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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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DILLON, Lyman. (Utica, NY, June 12, 1800--Dec. 8, 1857). Orphaned with his younger brother at an early age, Dillon was "bound out" to a tavern-keeper who worked him very hard. He finally ran away and returned to Utica where he worked and graduated from college.

Dillon moved west to Iowa and was attracted to the area which developed into Cascade because of the possibilities offered by agriculture and water power. He married and invested in a small tract of land two miles north of town.

The United States Congress appropriated $20,000 for a military road to run from Dubuque to the border of Iowa with Missouri. The bill was signed by President Van Buren. Supporters of the road claimed it would aid the military in transporting supplies and allow soldiers to move more quickly in the event of an Indian attack. There remains a controversy whether Dillon was hired in 1839 by R. C. Tilghman, the surveyor of the route, or James or Lucius Hart LANGWORTHY to establish a trail, plotted out by government surveyors, between Dubuque and Iowa City that would eventually be turned into a "military road."

Dillon purchased five oxen and began the job of plowing a furrow 86 miles long. He was followed by an army engineer driving a team of horses and a covered wagon carrying food and supplies. Oxen have been found capable of plowing ten miles a day. Although this ground had never been cleared, it has been estimated that the operation took about ten days to complete. While this can be questioned, "Dillon's Furrow" quickly provided a route followed by stagecoaches and wagons. The future route of parts of Highway 151 and Highway 1 also encouraged settlement. Towns like Cascade, Monticello, Langworthy, Mt. Vernon, and Solon thrived.

For his work, Dillon was paid three dollars per mile. He used the $258 to purchase forty acres near Cascade. He also operated a sawmill on the Maquoketa River. He was elected as a Representative to the 4th Iowa General Assembly. An oil painting of Dillion was presented in 1957 to the Iowa State Department of History in Des Moines by his grandson, Harry McHugh.

Photo courtesy: Tri-County Historical Society

The Dubuque chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a plaque along the MILITARY ROAD in 1926. Martelle, Iowa platted in 1872 credits Dillon's work with a roadside plaque. In 1978 the Cascade Federated Women's Club restored Dillon's gravestone in the Cascade Cemetery as a bicentennial project. In 1996 the Tri-County Historical Society held a "Lyman Dillon Heritage Day. A plaque was also established in Solon reading, “In 1839, Lyman Dillon plowed a furrow passing Solon, connecting Iowa City and Dubuque. The furrow later became known as the Old Military Road and later was known as Highway 1. Marker placed by Iowa DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2012." (1)



Harris, Diane, "Dillon's Furrow," Dubuque County-Key City Genealogical Society Newletter, April, May, June 2016

1. Burke, B. Adam, "Historic Dillon's Furrow Marked in Solon," Solon Economist.com. Online: http://northlibertyleader.com/content/historic-dillon%E2%80%99s-furrow-marked-solon