August 16, 2000
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Please excuse the tardiness of this response to your letter this Spring requesting any information about your grandfather, Capt. Connie McGee. Unfortunately, I did not know of him at the time your letter arrived, and it was only later this summer as I was looking through some copies of articles from old issues of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that I fortunately ran across mention of your grandfather! In that article, he was identified as residing in Dubuque, and so that aroused my curiosity. For the past two days I have been searching through copies of old Dubuque city directories, and newspaper microfilm containing any mention of steamboats and the Diamond Jo and Streckfus Steamboat Lines. Although the results are probably not as detailed as you would like, I am please to forward to you the results of my search.
The Dubuque City Directories were the start of my investigation. The first entry for "McGee" occurs on page 258 in the 1890-91 issue:
McGee, Cornelius works at Carr, Ryder and Engler Co. boards on north side of Southern Avenue
A few comments about this entry....Carr, Ryder and Engler was the city's largest millwork factory, makers of custom woodwork, windows and doors. Lots of lumber floated down the Mississippi from the northern woods via rafts and raftboats to Dubuque, and a large millwork and lumber industry, including some large sawmills, were main industries in Dubuque after the Civil War. Hundreds of people in Dubuque were employed in these industries. This particular company continued in operation until the 1970's. This entry occurs before the use of house numbers became common, and so only the general location of "on northern side of Southern Avenue" is listed. Southern Avenue, where Cornelius lived, was on the south side of Dubuque, as the street name suggests, and was very close to the River and riverfront. It also was inhabited almost exclusively by Irish immigrants. A large contingent of German immigrants settled a little further north in town, and there was almost a dividing line between the two groups of settlers in the early days of the city. An example of how strong the identification with the "old country" was could be plainly seen in the building of two large Catholic Churches within two blocks of each other. One was St. Patrick's-the Irish Catholic Church, andthe other was St. Mary's-the German Catholic Church!
The next entry, a much bigger one, is in the 1899-1900 Directory, on page 332:
McGee, Cornelius laborer, resides 523 Southern Avenue
McGee, John & wife, Eliza laborer, resides 523 Southern Avenue
McGee, Thomas mate, Diamond Jo Line, resides 523 Southern Avenue
Your grandfather's parents and a "Thomas McGee" are listed. It occurs to me that perhaps the directory confused the occupations; that maybe Cornelius was the mate for Diamond Jo Line, and not Thomas. It's only a guess, but it is customary on the river for a captain to have come up through the ranks beginning on the deck, and the mate (also a licensed deck officer) would be the logical position for a man desiring to become a steamboat captain. The other possibility, of course, is the Cornelius was still working at Carr, Ryder and Engler, or some other local industry. It's too bad the directory only lists "laborer" as occupation. But I'd bet my money that Cornelius was already working as a mate.
Now we move to the 1908 City Directory, on page 342:
McGee, Cornelius Capt., Diamond Jo Line, resides 523 Southern Avenue
There is no doubt that by now, your grandfather has earned his Master's License as a steamboat captain.
By the 1911-1912 Directory, on page 382, even more specific information is given:
McGee, Cornelius Capt., Str. St. Paul, resides 523 Southern Avenue
McGee, Miss Anna resides 523 Southern Avenue
McGee, Eliza, widow John resides 523 Southern Avenue
Cornelius is now identified as the Master (or Captain) of the Steamer St. Paul. The same listing for all three individuals reappears in the 1913 and 1915 directories.
By 1918, the following information is listed:
McGee, Mrs. Elizabeth resides 523 Southern Avenue
McGee, Miss Anna resides 504 Southern Avenue
Beginning in 1918, you will notice that Cornelius no longer appears in the city directories for Dubuque. And in directories for 1921-22, 1923 and 1925, only Anna is listed, but not at the Southern Avenue address any longer. This was all the information I was able to collect from directories, and so my next lead was to look in newspaper microfilm for obituaries and for stories about the Steamer St. Paul, since that boat is named specifically in connection with Cornelius. Here are the results of those searches.
On page 1 of the Tuesday, March 19, 1907, Dubuque Times-Journal we read:
John McGee, an aged resident of the lower part of town (meaning, by the river), died at his residence, 523 Southern Avenue, at 11:15 o'clock Monday evening after an illness of a year. He was born in Ireland eighty-nine years ago and came to this country a half century ago, locating in East Dubuque (Illinois, across the river from Dubuque), where he resided until his removal to this city twenty years ago. For a great many years he was an employee of the Diamond Jo Line. He is survived by his aged wife, two sons and two daughters, as follows: John of Laurel, Miss., Cornelius, Mrs. Thomas Dillon and Anna, of Dubuque. Mr. McGee was a faithful member of the Cathedral parish and for many years an active worker in the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The funeral will be held at 9 o'clock Thursday morning form the Cathedral and interment will be in East Dubuque.
Then on page 8 of the Tuesday, March 19, 1918, Dubuque Daily-Times Journal:
Mrs. Elizabeth McGee, one of the city's venerable residents, died Tuesday morning at her home, 523 Southern Avenue. Mrs. McGee's death occurred at 8:40 o'clock, on the twelfth (sic) anniversary of her husband's, his demise occurring on March 19, 1907, at 12:30 a.m. Mrs. McGee was born in County Cavan, Ireland, about eighty years ago and she was nine years of age when her parents brought her to this country. They resided in Missouri for a time and sixty years ago came to East Dubuque to live. For thirty-five years she had lived in Dubuque. Mrs. McGee's death is mourned by two daughters, Mrs. Thomas Dillon and Miss Anna, of this city, and two sons. Captain Cornelius McGee of the Streckfus Lines, and John McGee of East Dubuque.
The funeral takes place Thursday morning from the home at 8:45 o'clock with requiem mass at the Cathedral at 9 o'clock. The burial will be made in East Dubuque cemetery. Mrs. McGee was a member of the Cathedral and of the League of the Sacred Heart. A woman of staunch faith and great charity, she lived a life of real usefulness.
The only other leads to follow up on were the fact that Capt. McGee was master of the steamer St. Paul, according to the City Directories from 1911-1915, and that he was employed by both the Diamond Jo Line, and then by Streckfus Steamers, who bought out the Diamond Jo Line in 1911. Using that information, I was able to find a few incidents relating to the Steamer St. Paul in the local paper, but none of these mention Capt. McGee specifically by name. I am here assuming that he would have been Master (captain) of the St. Paul when these incidents occurred, but of course, I can not be certain.
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