Historical Feature: James W. Dillon–Father Of Our County

From A Previous Issue Of The Dillon Herald
In an age of intense individualism, the late James W. Dillon exhibited to rare perfection a breadth of achievement and public spirit that comprehended among its beneficiaries an entire community.
His apparently inexhaustible fund of energy and initiative was always guided and dominated by a sense of responsibility to mankind, imposed not by law or circumstances, but derived wholly from an inner conscience that is the supreme crown of man’s wisdom.
Business was to him not a means of acquiring wealth but an instrument of service, and he dignified the idea of service in business long before that word became perverted by constant use.
A long life enabled him to realize an almost perfect fruition of his best hopes and plans.
From humble beginnings, he became a great merchant and through his business connections encouraged agriculture, promoted and secured the building of railways, and improved transportation facilities. He was a benefactor in every phase of progress and in increasing the welfare in his district.
After many years of struggle on his part, a new city and county were created, and the honor involved in his name being given to both the city and county, was an appropriate tribute not only to the efforts extended by him in their behalf, but as a lasting memorial to one of the truly great men of his generation in South Carolina.
His ancestry undoubtedly gave him assets that his character and will converted into distinct advantages.
He descended from one of the ancient families of Great Britain and Ireland, where the Dillons for generation after generation were distinguished by their achievements in war and in peace. They possessed many titles and landed estates and for two centuries. The Earl of Roscommon in Ireland was a Dillon.
The founder of the family in America was Joshua Dillon, who born in 1720 near Liverpool, England.
After the death of his mother, Joshua was placed in the home of an uncle, a London ship owner, and spent 10 years of seafaring life.
He first came to America, it is said, about 1737. He made one or more trips back to England, being there in 1775, but soon afterward sailed for America, and Joshua and his brother, William, were staunch patriots throughout the war for independence. After that war he settled in South Carolina in the upper part of Marion County, near the site of the town of Little Rock. Joshua died suddenly at the home of his son, Henry, in Marion district August 1, 1824, when nearly 104 years of age.
Like his family for a generation or so preceding, he was a staunch Quaker, but evidently reconciled his part in the Revolution with his profession of faith.
Joshua Dillon was three times married, and two of the sons of his first wife were also soldiers in the Revolution.
Many descendants of Joshua Dillon have become wildly dispersed over the South and Central West.
His third wife was Mary Blackwell, and one of their sons, William, was the father of James W. Dillon. William Dillon was a farmer in the old Marion district and married Lucretia Cottingham.
The late James W. Dillon was born Nov. 25, 1826, and was very young when his father died. He had to be satisfied with an education that embraced only the fundamentals and his early training was largely work in the fields.
In 1853, at the age of 27, he started a modest store at Little Rock.
From the first he exemplified those principles of bedrock honesty and justice that were characteristic of his entire life and are fundamental in merchandising, and soon had the confidence of both the small farmers and the rich planters tributary to Little Rock.
At that time the nearest railroad was nearly 25 miles away, and all his goods had to be hauled by wagons over the rough roads.
As a merchant, he had to accept the prevailing practices of long time credit, establishing his own credit with wholesale markets and extending it to his patrons.
During the period of the Civil War many of the accounts on his books became worthless, but when the war was over and at the very earliest opportunity he settled all his bills, dollar for dollar, with northern wholesale merchants.
This act was in perfect accord with and what might have been expected of his personal integrity, but should be mentioned because it contributed to the general renewal of confidence and trade relations between the North and the South. After the war, Mr. Dillon handled the greater part of the cotton grown in upper Marion County. Soon he opened a private banking institution, and there was scarcely a detail which he did not personally supervise.
Altogether it was a period of struggling rehabilitation from the devastation of the war times, and this generous merchant again and again proved his faith in the country and in its people by extending credit and encouragement to the planters and farmers, so many a man in that section of the state owed his start and success in life to the patient consideration and sound advice of Mr. Dillon.
In 1882, he took into partnership his son, Thomas A. Dillon, and after that for many years the firm of James W. Dillon & Son continued the banking and other extensive interests founded by the senior partner.
The town of Dillon was established for the most part on land owned by the firm of J.W. Dillon & Son, who donated to the Florence Railroad Company a half interest in 54 acres.
The Florence Railway had been partially completed in 1888, and it was in the following year that a branch of the main store at Little Rock was established on the site of the new town.
By 1891, this branch store had so grown that the firm abandoned the old site at Little Rock.
After that James W. Dillon concentrated his time and energies upon the welfare and prosperity of the town and sought to further its every interest, whether in schools, churches or civic development.
In 1903 his extensive business affairs were incorporated as the J.W. Dillon & Son Company, in which he held the post of president the rest of his life though the active duties more and more devolved upon his son, Thomas A. Dillon.
In the 87th year of his life, James W. Dillon passed away on July 29, 1913.
He had passed the age of three score and ten, busied with a multiplicity of commercial and other interests.
But the object on which he concentrated his enthusiasm and effort during his later years was the establishment of a new county out of old Marion.
The movement for a new county had begun in 1895, but it required 15 years of agitation, several elections, and all the influence that could be brought to bear upon the legislature before the bill providing for the creation of Dillon county was signed by the governor Feb. 5, 1910.
In the ceremonies and celebration attending the signing of the bill and the creation of the new county, James W. Dillon was the central figure and justly applauded as the “Father of Dillon County.” For years, he had worked to that end, and in providing for the new county an appropriate seat of government, J.W. Dillon & Son not only donated a half square of land, but $25,000 in cash, as a birthday gift to the county.
Three years before the death of James W. Dillon, the courthouse had been completed at a cost of $100,000, and is one of the handsomest county buildings in the state.