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Farley, Jesse P.
(April 2, 1813–May 8, 1894)

–railroad developer and three-term mayor of Dubuque—was born in Tennessee. In 1817 he moved with his parents to St. Louis. In April 1827, when he was only 14 years of age, Farley relocated on his own to Galena, Illinois, to begin mining. Within two years, he began a private smelting business with his brother-in-law. He traveled to Dubuque for the first time in the spring of 1833. That fall he moved to Dubuque permanently and opened a wholesale dry-goods store (Farley, Norris and Co.), got involved in city politics, and became an avid promoter of railways and steam travel in Dubuque.

    All who knew him considered Farley an enterprising man. A town booster, Farley was a principal owner and investor in Key City Planing Mills and the Key City Steam Bakery. By the time he closed his dry-goods store in 1858, he was one of the 10 wealthiest citizens of Dubuque County.

    Farley's business interests remained wide-ranging. He helped organize the Dubuque Insurance Company and the Central Improvement Company. In 1850 he established a line of steamboats between St. Paul and St. Louis, marking Dubuque as the most important city on the Mississippi between those cities. As president of the Dubuque and St. Paul steamer line, Farley eventually consolidated the first steamer line in Dubuque—the Galena, Dunleith, and Minnesota Packet Line—with his own line to create the Galena, Dubuque, Dunleith, and Minnesota Packet Company, usually called the Minnesota Packet Company.

    While he was very successful in steam travel, Farley's greatest passion was the railroad. Farley helped organize the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad and eventually became its first president. He lost much of his property and wealth in the Panic of 1857 and sought to recover it through Farley, Loetscher, and Co., a sash and door manufacturing company in Dubuque. Continuing his affiliation with railroads, he was appointed reorganization manager of the St. Paul and Pacific Railway when it entered receivership in 1873. He secured railway service for many small, northeastern Iowa communities, and the town of Farley, Iowa, was named in his honor. Farley left the railway industry after a crushing financial and political defeat in a U.S. Supreme Court case against the Great Northern Railroad in the 1890s. Until the time of his death on May 8, 1894, Farley remained the largest stockholder and president of Farley, Loetscher, and Co.

    Serving on the city council and three terms as mayor, Farley was considered one of the foremost citizens of Dubuque. Upon the creation of the Republican Party, he became an active member. He was also a faithful member of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Dubuque, and he served for many years on the church's board of trustees. Throughout his life, he fought for temperance.

    Farley was married in Galena, Illinois, in 1833 to Mary P. Johnson, the daughter of his first partner in Dubuque. She died in 1844, leaving four children. In 1845 he wed Mary L. Johnson, a niece of his first wife, and they had three children.
Sources include Chandler C. Childs, Dubuque: Frontier River City (1984); Len Kruse, My Old Dubuque: Collected Writings on Dubuque Area History (2000); Randolph K. Lyon, Dubuque: The Encyclopedia (1991); Timothy R. Mahoney, "The Rise and Fall of the Booster Ethos in Dubuque, 1850–1861," Annals of Iowa 61 (2002), 371–419; William E. Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi: 1788–1988 (1987); The History of Dubuque County, Iowa (1880); and Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties, Iowa (1894).
Contributor: Kristy J. Medanic