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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Langworthy, James L.
(January 20, 1800–March 14, 1865)

Lucius H. Langworthy

(February 6, 1807-June 9, 1865)

Edward Langworthy

(August 31, 1808-January 4, 1893), and

Solon M. Langworthy

(January 17, 1814-June 7, 1886)

–miners, early settlers, business entrepreneurs, and political leaders, prominently associated with Dubuque—were born in Vermont and New York, 4 of 11 children of Dr. Stephen Langworthy and Betsey (Massey) Langworthy. The oldest, James, left St. Louis in 1824 and began mining in Hardscrabble (now Hazel Green), Wisconsin. Three years later two other brothers, Lucius and Edward, joined him. In 1829-1830 the Langworthys crossed the river and began illegal mining activity in Dubuque's Mines of Spain. James was one of the signers of the "Miners Compact" (June 17, 1830), probably the first set of laws drawn up by settlers in what would later become Iowa. When official white settlement was permitted in 1833 after the Black Hawk War, the Langworthys were joined by a fourth brother, Solon, and began their indefatigable position as Dubuque's "First Family."

    James, being the oldest, was considered the "head of the family," yet less is known about him than his other brothers. In 1849 he built one of the finest homes, which he called Ridgemount, on top of the Third Street bluff (now the site of Mercy Medical Center). He also constructed the first schoolhouse in Dubuque and, with his brother Lucius, was instrumental in getting Congress to appropriate funds to construct a "military road" from Dubuque to Iowa City in 1839. His business ventures included real estate and bank ing. His firm, J. L. Langworthy & Brothers, became highly successful, reportedly paying one-twelfth of the entire tax collected in Dubuque in the mid 1850s. In 1857 James's personal estate was valued at $126,090. The Langworthys owned some 600 acres of land in the city during their lifetimes. James also served in the state constitutional convention in 1844 and one term in the territorial legislature as a "free-trade Democrat."

    Lucius H. Langworthy served as a lieutenant in the Black Hawk War and was present at the Battle of Bad Axe when Black Hawk's warriors were defeated. He is said to have built the first frame house in Dubuque, in 1834, and where he also developed a large orchard. He was elected as the first sheriff of the county and was co-owner of a steamboat named the Heroine. With others, including John Plumbe Jr. and Asa Whitney, Lucius worked diligently to develop a Pacific railroad. In 1855 he was a director of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad, and subsequently became president of the Dubuque Western Railroad. He also served as one of the first directors of the Miners' Bank. A writer and amateur historian, he compiled many articles and delivered lectures on literary and historical topics.

    Edward was, at the time of his death, the wealthiest of the four Langworthy brothers in terms of personal assets ($170,000). Like Lucius, he served in the Black Hawk War before permanently settling on the west bank of the Mississippi. Politically, he was the most active of the four brothers, serving in the territorial legislature for three terms, in the 1844 constitutional convention, and as a member of the trustees of the town and later as a city alderman. During the constitutional convention, he voted to exclude "negroes" from the state and to abolish the grand jury system, neither of which passed. He helped create a claims system for the sale of mineral lands, which was adopted by the public land office. He erected many stores and businesses in Dubuque and aided his brothers in surviving the Panic of 1857. In 1864 he became a stockholder and director in the First National Bank–the first nationally chartered bank in Dubuque. As city alderman, he helped to establish schools, factories, and a street railway system, and supported street and road improvements. He constructed his first house in 1837, the same year Dubuque was chartered as a town. In 1857, at a cost of $8,000, he built a lovely octagon house designed by the noted architect John Francis Rague.

    Solon M. Langworthy, after serving in the U.S. Militia during the Black Hawk War and also in Arkansas, was the last to join the rest of the brothers on the mining frontier. Solon is often remembered as the first "man to plow land in Iowa" when he farmed 60 acres of land north of town for his brother Lucius. He later mined for lead at Coon Branch, near Hazel Green, Wisconsin, and claimed to have made more than $22,000 in one year. In 1837 he went into partnership with Orrin Smith to purchase a steamboat called the Brazil. On its first trip from St. Louis to Dubuque, it carried building materials used to build the first hotel in Davenport, the Le Claire House. On one of its trips it sank and was a total loss. Solon next went into the mercantile business with H. L. Massey selling goods to mining camps in the area. He married in 1840 and eight years later settled permanently in Dubuque with his wife and six children. In 1856 he built an imposing Greek Revival-style home. A farmer at heart, he surrounded the home with fruit trees and a vegetable garden. During the Civil War, he supplied many fruits and vegetables to Union soldiers stationed at Camp Union (Franklin) north of Dubuque. He also served in the 27th Regiment of Iowa Volunteers during the war and was taken prisoner at Holly Springs in 1862, but was later exchanged for Confederate prisoners. He left military service in 1864 and returned to Dubuque, where he remained until his death. Of all of the four Langworthy brothers, Solon was the only one never to have held a political office.
Sources Some materials related to the Langworthys are held by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. See also John C. Parish, "The Langworthys of Early Dubuque and Their Contributions to Local History," Iowa Journal of History and Politics 8 (1910), 315–422; Franklin Old, ed., History of Dubuque County, Iowa (1911); Randolph Lyon, Dubuque: The Encyclopedia (1991); William E. Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi, 1788–1998 (1987); and Timothy R. Mahoney, "The Rise and Fall of the Booster Ethos in Dubuque, 1850–1861," Annals of Iowa 61 (2002), 371–419.
Contributor: Michael D. Gibson

Cite as: Gibson, Michael D. "Langworthy, James L." The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 12 December 2017