GEORGE M DILLEY, a highly successful railroad-building contractor who had a major part in the expansion of rail lines in Texas in the final quarter of the last century, moved to Dallas from Huntsville in the late 1880s and enjoyed a certain instant fame from almost the moment of his arrival on the local scene. Dilley’s fame was based on two facts. The first was his decision to build the town’s first super elegant home—the famous Dilley mansion that stood on Maple Avenue at Wolf where Maple Terrace is now located. The second was his openhearted, unabashed avowal of the Republican party as the savior of the country.
The rambling brick-and-stone, three-storied residence built by Dilley on Maple shortly after that fashionable thoroughfare was extended northwestward from Cedar Springs was singled out for mention by name and cost in the Dallas city directory for 1891-9; “As an example of the class of buildings erected in Dallas during 1891, it is only necessary to note the Dilley residence in North Dallas, costing $60,000.” No other residence erected in Dallas had ever cost so much or been cited as one of the economic developments of the year. It was somewhat of an architectural anomaly. In appearance a cross between a maharajah’s dream palace and a Tudor king’s castle, it was a showplace for many years. The $60,000 cost equaled that of the new seven-story skyscraper erected the same year by the Scollards in downtown Dallas on Main Street one block west of Akard.
The editor of the directory felt it worthy of mention, in fact, along with the Oriental Hotel, then nearing completion as the leading hotel in the Southwest, at Commerce and Akard.
As owners and occupants of the mansion, Dilley and his family were followed by a succession of well-known Dallas families. The first was that of Royal A. Ferris, a leading banker, his wife and son, who lived in it during the first decade of the present century. The first downtown square created by the city park department at Houston, Young, Record, and Wood ( across from the Union Station) was named Ferris Plaza in his honor.
Next occupants of the Dilley mansion were the widow and children of Barnett Gibbs, onetime lieutenant governor of Texas. The last to own and occupy the house was J. H. McDonough and family. He was a pioneer Dallas manufacturer whose business helped to give Dallas world prominence in the making of cotton gin machinery.
Dilley would no doubt have been surprised if he could have known that he would be remembered in Dallas primarily as the builder of the mansion on Maple Avenue. His greatest personal interest outside of his business was in the fortunes of the Republican party. His proudest moment had been in connection with General Grant’s bid for a third term nomination as president at the party’s Chicago convention in 1880. It proved a losing fight in which Dilley had been one of the “invincibles” steadfast in support of Grant until final defeat.
Dilley was born in 1833 in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, the son of Chester and Mary Schurz Dilley. He was particularly proud of his Highland Scottish ancestry. His great grandfather, Aaron Dilley, had fought under Washington in the American Revolutionary Army. George Dilley left home at seventeen to begin his career as an employee of a railroad in Lorain, Ohio, and got his first railroad-building contract at Frankfort, Indiana. His greatest financial success came after he moved to Texas in 1870 to take charge of the construction of the Houston and Great Northern, now a part of the Missouri Pacific Lines between Houston and Saint Louis. He later became a principal contractor during Jay Gould’s development of his railroad empire in Texas and the Southwest. Dilley also established iron foundries, including those at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Parsons, Kansas, San Antonio, and Palestine.
It was as a delegate from Texas that Dilley participated in the 1880 Republican Convention at Chicago. Having completed two terms as president, Grant began a series of foreign travels with his family that took him around the world, but like former President Teddy Roosevelt years later, Grant returned to the United States to seek the Republican nomination for an unprecedented third term. Dilley was one of the band of “the immortal 306 delegates who held together in one unbroken column for Gen. Grant,” although the nomination finally went to James A. Garfield. Ever after that contest at Chicago, Dilley and other adherents of Grant prided themselves on having remained loyal to him to the end. They had a medal struck and distributed among themselves commemorating the event “in honor of the fidelity of those who remained true to the Great Captain.”
Dilley and his family left Dallas in the middle of the 1890s, settling in Colorado.