Lee County Illinois Biography

Joseph Utley

Foremost in the various enterprises that have contributed to the lasting prosperity of Dixon was Joseph Utley, deceased. He was born in Weston NY and was descended from New England ancestors, his grandfather having been a tanner in Connecticut and later a resident of Lewis County NY. The father of our subject, Henry, was also a tanner and followed his trade in Weston, engaging in the manufacture of harness, saddles, trunks, boots and shoes for upwards of sixty years. Grandmother Sarah (Morse) Utley, was a native of New England and died in Weston, at the venerable age of ninety-six.

After engaging in the manufacture of leather at Westernville for a number of years, Mr. Utley visited Dixon in 1855 and was so greatly pleased with the village that he returned the following year and opened a leather and saddle store in partnership with Austin Morse. In 1859 he sold his interest in his native place, and removing his family to Dixon, settled in this city permanently, and from that time until the day of his death, March 19, 1889, he was one of its most useful and progressive citizens.

In the spring of 1860 Mr. Utley sold his business to the firm of Morse & Benjamin, after which he retired from active business. A man of great enterprise, push and energy, he always took the lead in any undertaking for the good of the community. He was appointed Canal Commissioner by Gov. Palmer and served eight years in that capacity, being President of the Board during six years of that time. It was mainly through his exertions and influence that the first appropriation for the improvement of the canal was obtained from the Government, the money being expended for the building of the locks at Henry.

Mr. Utley was one of the most ardent champions of the Hennepin Canal. At a meeting held in Richmond for the purpose of securing aid from the Government for the improvement of Southern waterways, he introduced a resolution asking the United States Government to make an appropriation for the construction of the Hennepin Canal, which was unanimously adopted by the convention in 1885. He went before the New York Legislature and secured the unanimous endorsement of that body and the passage of the resolution instructing the Representatives and Senatore of that State in the Natl. Legislature to vote for an appropriation for the building of the canal. Mr. Utley was profoundly versed in all that relates to canals and knew the cost of the transportation through every canal in the world and the tonnage of its shipping.

March 25, 1839, Mr. Utley was married to Miss Frances Church, daughter of Seth and Clarissa (Turner) Church. She was born in Westernville NY March 31, 1816, where she was also reared. Her grandfather, Josiah Church, was probably a native of Rhode Island, whence he removed to Oneida County NY and bought a tract of land in Westernville. For many years after his settlement there were no railways and Albany, one hundred miles away, was the nearest market. The maiden name of his wife was Maria Clark.

Seth Church, father of Mrs. Utley was born in Rhode Island. During the war of 1812 he served as musician in a New York regiment and engaged in the trade of a cabinet maker at Westernville until his death. His wife, Clarissa (Turner) Church, was a native of Vermont, and a daughter of Nathaniel and Mary (Bartholomew) Turner.

The married life of our subject and his wife was one of uninterrupted happiness until death separated them, within six days of te anniversary that would have marked their golden wedding. They reared three children; Edward B., who resides in Dixon; Clara, wife of A.C. Bardwell and Henry J., a graduate of Bellevue College, New York City, and now a physician of Springfield. Mr. Utley was an ardent Republican in his political views and was a strong supporter of his party. In his death the community lost one of its best citizens, who had always made its interests his own and who in dying left behind a record of devotion to public work well worthy of emulation.

Transcribed by Christine Walters - Portraits and Biographical Lee County IL 1892 Pg 453


Joseph Utley (deceased), Dixon, Ill., was born at Western, Oneida County, N. Y., July 27, 1815, the son of Henry and Sarah (Morse) Utley. After completing his education in the neighborhood schools, he entered his father's tannery, learned the trade and succeeded to the business in 1838, which he followed until 1859, when he removed to Dixon and opened a saddlery hardware store, continuing until 1867, when he retired from active business. He was deeply interested in water transportation, and was a recognized authority on this subject; was appointed Canal Commissioner of the State in 1869 and served eight years, most of the time as President of the Board. He was one of the prime movers in the improvement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and to his efforts is largely due the Hennepin Canal, now being constructed, in the interest of which he did effective work before commercial bodies, Committees of Congress and State Legislatures. The whole project met with fierce opposition from the Sterling people, and it was years after his death that sentiment changed, a dam at that point instead of Dixon having been pronounced the more feasible. Mr. Utley died at Dixon, Ill., March 19, 1889.

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

Lee Co Bios