Lee County Biography

Joseph Crawford
Amboy Township

Hon. Joseph Crawford, who recently passed to his long rest full of years and honors, bearing with him the love and reverence of the many who knew him, was a noble type of the pioneers of Lee County, and his name will be forever linked with the history of its rise and progress from the early days of the settlement to the present time,and with all that is highest and best in the record of its social, religious and educational development. He was one of its foremost businessmen, its most skillful and successful financiers, as well as one of its wealthiest citizens; he was a leader in its public life and bore a conspicuous part in the administration of the local government in various important civic capacities; and his powerful influence and generous use of his money insured the success of many an enterprise that advanced the interest not only of Dixon, where he has made his home, and of the county besides, but of other parts of Illinois, and even other States where he had extensive dealings.

A native of Pennsylvania, our subject was born in Columbia County, May 19, 1811, a son of John and Catherine (Cassidy) Crawford. When he was eleven years old his parents removed to Huntingdon, in Luzerne County, the same State, and he laid the foundation of a sound education in the schools of that locality. He was, however, mainly self-educated, and being naturally of a bright and studious turn of mind, and fond of books, even before he attained manhood he had acquired a reputation for thorough scholarship and learning, and in 1831 he entered upon the profession of teaching. He was thus engaged for four years, and devoted his leisure hours to studying the sit of surveying.

Thus well-equipped for life on the frontier, April 4, 1835, our subject started on that momentous journey which led him to this part of the country, with whose fortunes in the years to come his own were to be so inextricably woven, and where he was to assist in the upbuilding of a great and glorious Commonwealth. On his arrival in this State, he passed through Chicago and Dixon, and pushed on to Galena. But he had been pleased with the beautiful Rock River country, and he soon returned to locate in this valley at Dixon's Ferry, selecting a tract of land between Dixon and Grand Detour, on which he settled in the month of May, 1835. He was thus among the first pioneers of this section, as settlements were then but few and scattering, and a log cabin and flat-boat were the sole signs of civilization at Dixon's Ferry.

Immediately upon establishing himself on his farm, our subject, besides attending to its cultivation and improvement, began to utilize his knowledge of surveying, and as the country began to develop he was employed by the incoming settlers at that profession, as well as by the Government, and in time he built up a large business in that line, becoming noted far and wide for the accuracies of his surveys, which to this day are accepted as remarkably correct and the acknowledged standard in-their locality, he did a great deal of important official work, as he was employed to make the original surveys for all the towns and villages on the Rock River between Rockford and Rock Island, and for many years was County Surveyor. In 1836 he was appointed Deputy County Surveyor for all the northwestern part of Illinois, his especial work being to locate and lay out roads and to plat villages. In the same year he was elected County Surveyor of Ogle County, which then included Whiteside and Lee Counties, the latter not being set off from Ogle until 1839. In 1841 Mr. Crawford was elected one of the three County Commissioners of this county, he having been previously elected County Surveyor at the time of its organization, and he held that office eighteen years.

While following his profession as Surveyor our subject went into business very extensively as a dealer in real estate, and was so engaged for many years, being at one time in partnership with J. C. Ayers and Milton Santee. He dealt principally in farming lands, making large investments for himself and others, buying, selling and locating land in Northern Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska. In the course of time, his extensive operations brought him in a handsome fortune that made him one of the richest men of the county, and others acquired wealth through him. It was largely through his instrumentality that the Lee County National Bank was organized in 1865, when he became its President, and to his vigorous and sound policy in the management of its finances during the many years that he was its presiding officeer is largely due its high reputation as one of the best conducted and most reliable banking institutions in the State. He was one of the Board of Directors of the Nachusa House Company, and was interested in various enterprises that were calculated to build up the city and county. Our subject found much of the happiness and comfort of his life in his marriage with Mrs. Hulda (Bowman) Culver, to whom he was wedded September 16, 1852.

In Mr. Crawford was seen that rare and harmonious development of a well-balanced mind, acute intellect, and good sense; accurate judgment in all business matters and sagacious foresight were traits of his character that not only brought him success in his private pursuits, but made him peculiarly valuable as an official in the various high positions to which he was called from time to time by his adniiring and appreciative fellow-citizens. In 1873 he was called to the head of the municipal government of Dixon as its Mayor, was re-elected to that office in 1874, and again in 1875. Thus forty years after he located at Dixon's Ferry, which at that time, with its one log house, could not even be called a hamlet, he found himself presiding over the affairs of a populous and flourishing city. Several years previous to his election to the Mayoralty he had represented Lee and Whiteside Counties in the Illinois State Legislature for two terms, during the sessions of 1849 and 1850 and 1853 and 1854, and had won honor as a legislator and as an active and useful member of the Committee of Township Organization. He was prominent in educational matters as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Northern Illinois Normal School, and he was always a generous and earnest advocate of whatsoever would tend to elevate the community.

Our subject was a Trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church for a number of years, and he never wavered in his loyalty to the denomination. He was a Christian in character and life, and he hallowed every social and religious tie by a pure and upright life. He was true in all things to the obligations imposed upon him as a man and a citizen, and it is said of him that "he never betrayed a trust." August 11, 1891, he laid down this life to enter a higher field of labor to perfect that which was so well begun here, and though many to whom he had been a warm and steadfast friend mourn his loss, all feel that it is well with him.

Portraits and Biographical of Lee County 1892 Pg. 682

Deceased) was born in Columbia County, Penn., May 19, 1811; located in Lee County in 1835; appointed Deputy Surveyor for Northwestern Illinois in 1836; elected County Surveyor of Lee County in 1840, serving eighteen years; served as a member of the First Board of Supervisors of Lee County in 1841; elected to represent Lee and Whiteside Counties in the State Legislature in 1849; re-elected to the same office in 1853. He was one of the charter members of the Lee County National Bank (now the City National Bank of Dixon), which was organized in 1865, and served as its President until his death; elected Mayor of Dixon in 1873 and re-elected the two following terms. He died August 11, 1891.

Transcribed by Karen Holt - 1904 History of Lee County Illinois edited by Mr. A.C. Bardwell


The now flourishing city of Dixon, with its population of more than ten thousand, was scarcely a hamlet when Joseph Crawford took up his abode here. The site of the city was marked by a log cabin and ferry. From that time until his death Mr. Crawford was counted among the upbuilders of the city and he builded wisely and well. He was associated with public affairs as an office holder, with business interests as a surveyor and banker, and in the former connection he formed a very extensive acquaintance, so that he was one of the best known men of his part of the state. The success which attended him in his earlier years resulted in his giving his time and attention from 1875 until his death to the supervision of his private interests and to his duties as bank president.

Joseph Crawford was born in Columbia county, Pennsylvania, May 19, 1811, a son of John and Catherine (Cassidy) Crawford. When he was eleven years of age the family removed to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where he acquired his education in the public schools and through his own efforts, learning many valuable lessons in the school of experience and through private reading and observation. In 1831 he began teaching, which profession he followed for four years. He also took up the study of surveying and became very proficient along that line. In April, 1835, he started for the far west, walking all the distance from Pennsylvania to Illinois. He first made his way to Chicago, thence to Dixon and afterward to Galena, but finally returned to Dixon Ferry, as the place was then known, and settled on a farm in the valley of the Eock river, between Dixon and Grand Detour. This was in May, 1835. It is difficult to realize the condition of things which then existed in that part of the state. This was only three years after the Black Hawk war and northern Illinois was largely an undeveloped and unsettled wilderness. Two years passed ere Chicago was incorporated as a city and many of the now thriving towns in the central and northern part of the state had not yet sprung into existence, while the fertile fields of the present day, were then undeveloped prairie land, not a furrow having been turned on many an acre. Mr. Crawford began surveying and followed that pursuit until early in the '80s. His skill and proficiency in that line brought him large success in his work. He made all the surveys for towns and villages from Rockford to Rock Island and in 1836 he was appointed by the governor to the position of deputy county surveyor for all the northwestern portion of Illinois.

In the same year he was elected county surveyor of Ogle county, which then included Whiteside and Lee counties. It was not until 1839 that Lee county was set off from Ogle and organized as a separate county. In 1841 Mr. Crawford was elected one of the three county commissioners of the new county and at the time of its organization he was chosen county surveyor, which position he filled continuously for eighteen years. He was not only active in directing public interests of his section of the state but also became a factor in shaping the history of the commonwealth inasmuch as he was twice elected to the legislature, serving in 1849 and 1850 and again in 1853 and 1854. It was still the formative period in the history of the state and he was connected with much important legislation which was shaped at that period. While thus filling public offices Mr. Crawford continued active in the management of his private business affairs. In connection with surveying he also acted as land agent and eventually became a dealer in real estate. He utilized his excellent opportunities to invest in property when it was to be had at a low figure and dealt principally in farm lands, which rose in value and brought to him splendid financial returns. He handled large property interests on his own account in both Illinois and Iowa and in 1865 he became a factor in the financial circles of the state as one of the organizers of the Lee County National Bank, which was afterward reorganized under the name of the City National Bank, Mr. Crawford continuing as its president up to the time of his death, which occurred on the llth of August, 1891.

It was on the 16th of September, 1852, that Mr. Crawford was married to Huldah Bowman Culver and they became the parents of two children : Charles, deceased, and J. W., now of Dixon. To say that Mr. Crawford was prominent scarcely expresses the place which he occupied in the public regard and in business and official connections. He was a man whose opinions carried great influence, for he was known to be thoroughly honest and, combined with his integrity, he possessed keen sagacity, which enabled him to thoroughly understand all the phases of public questions as well as of private business interests. Ere death called him Dixon had become a city of large and important interests and to the result he had contributed liberally through his business activities. He was, indeed, one of the promoters and builders of its greatness and its prosperity, and his name should stand high on the roll of Dixon 's most honored residents

History of Lee County by Frank E. Stevens 1914

Dixon Evening Telegraph 1859
Joseph Crawford was born in Columbia County PA May 19, 1811, and came to Lee County in 1835. He was appointed surveyor for northwestern Illinois in 1836 and elected County Surveyor of Lee COunty in 1840 and served for 18 years. He was a member of the First Board of Supervisors of Lee County in 1841 and was elected to represent Lee and Whiteside Counties at the state legislature in 1849. He was re-elected to the same office in 1853. He was one of the charter members of the Lee County National Bank, organized in 1865, and servied as its president until his death. He served as acting mayor of Dixon from March 23, to April 6, 1859 when Amos C. Stedman was elected. He was later elected as mayor in 1873 and re-elected for two following terms. He died August 11, 1891.

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