I grew up in a red brick John Deere house on Ogilby Road in Dubuque. No one seemed to know how to spell Ogilby, so I must have spelled O G I L B Y hundreds of times before we moved to St. Anne Drive. Of course, I always wondered who or what Ogilby was – now it’s time to answer that question.
A little research indicates Ogilby Road was named for Joseph Ogilby, one of Dubuque’s pioneer settlers. Ogilby was born on October 7, 1811, in Philadelphia, PA. In 1836, he came west with the Philadelphia Lead Mining Company and settled in Dubuque.
The Philadelphia Lead Mining Co. was organized in Philadelphia in 1835. The company lured adventurers who were interested in travelling to the Territory of Iowa to “set up a town of their own.” The members of the company were governed by a constitution and by-laws and were assured by those in charge that funds would be available to make all their plans successful.
In the spring of 1836, mill-buhrs were purchased and sent to Dubuque; in April, nineteen members of the company left Philadelphia, arriving in Dubuque on May 15. Members of the company immediately set about looking for a good location where they could mine lead and set up their new town, but before they could stake a claim, the company failed. The property of the Philadelphia Lead Mining Co. was sold, and proceeds were divided among the members.
Many of the disappointed members of the failed company returned to Philadelphia. But Joseph Ogilby and Elizabeth Reed, Ogilby’s future wife who had travelled west with her sister and brother-in-law Robert Rodgers, were among those who stayed in Dubuque. Those who remained in Dubuque became known as the Philadelphia Colony. Many of these people became wealthy citizens and contributed to the city’s growth and prosperity.
Ogilby was fortunate. He was in the right place at the right time. Just a month and a half after his arrival in Dubuque, the city was platted on July 2, 1836. Ogilby was able to purchase several valuable pieces of property on Main St. directly from the government. He soon bought other lots and began pursuing building and contracting opportunities in the expanding community.
In 1839, when Samuel Wilkins submitted a draft for the city’s first court house, Ogilby was elected architect. James Langworthy furnished the brick, and Ogilby furnished the lumber for contractors Rogers and Anson. The two-story, plain brick building was completed at the corner of 7th and Clay (now Central Ave.) in the spring of 1843. The courthouse served Dubuque County until 1891 when the current courthouse was built.
Four years after his arrival in Dubuque, Ogilby married Philadelphia Colony member Elizabeth M. Reed on June 10, 1840. They became parents of seven children – Sarah, Elizabeth Rebecca, Josephine, George, Ellen, Joshua, and Mary Ann. Sadly, only Elizabeth Rebecca, Josephine, and Joshua survived to adulthood.
Although only a black and white sketch of Ogilby exists, an early Dubuque resident Josiah Conzett’s recalled Ogilby and his wife. Conzett wrote, “He was a brick layer by profession and a mighty hunter. He was a large man, rough and coarse in his manners.” Conzett was kinder when reminiscing about Ogilby’s wife, “Mrs. Ogilby was a fine woman and very charitable.”
In spite of Conzett’s impression of the man, Ogilby was a well-respected citizen around Dubuque. He served several terms as a city alderman, was a director of the Dubuque Western Railroad until his resignation in December 1858, and in March 1860, he was one of seven men elected to serve as a director of the Dubuque Harbor Improvement Co., an organization which oversaw the filling in of Mississippi River sloughs and other improvements on the riverfront.
Joseph Ogilby died on September 9, 1865, at the age of just 53. The Dubuque Daily Times informed the city of Ogilby’s death in the September 10th edition:
It is a sad duty we have to perform this morning in announcing to our readers the death of Mr. Joseph Ogilby, one of Dubuque’s early pioneers who departed this life yesterday between 11 and 12 o’clock. For some days this sad event had been expected, as for that length of time he has been at the gates of the “dark and silent valley.”
Mr. Ogilby was not a member of the Early Settlers Association, but intended to become so at the next meeting. It is suggested, therefore, by the President and several of the officers, that the members of the Association and other early settlers meet at the Public Square on Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock and proceed in a body to the residence of the family to attend the funeral.
Following the 3:00 pm funeral held at the Ogilby home at 1044 Iowa St., Joseph Ogilby was buried in Linwood Cemetery.
Now, I know who Joseph Ogilby was – and so do you. I think we would all agree that naming one of the streets in the 1947-48 Hillcrest Housing Development on Dubuque’s growing west side after Joseph Ogilby was a fitting tribute to a man who helped make the city what it is today.