DIXON – The city’s signature landmark turns 100 this year, and its history was celebrated Thursday for the 12th annual Founder’s Day program.
About 100 community members heard a presentation by local historian Duane Paulsen on the Dixon Memorial Arch at the Northwest Territory Historic Center.
The arch was built in May 1919 to commemorate Lee County soldiers who fought in World War I, and it welcomed the return of hundreds of servicemen on June 12.
“The war changed Dixon and Lee County,” Paulsen said. “Probably nothing happened like this or would ever again.”
Paulsen read accounts from several archived articles and letters in The Telegraph as well as other official records of the time and spoke of the spectacles of that celebration, including band performances, wrestling and boxing matches as well as a hot air balloon flying across the river accompanied by one-armed trapeze and acrobatic stunts.
Arches were a common piece of parades for those returning from the war, but unlike Dixon’s, most were temporary. A photo that can found at the Illinois Secretary of State’s digital archives, at shawurl.com/3b37, shows an arch in Sterling, at the corner of Third Street and First Avenue by the Lawrence Lofts building, that was erected to celebrate the return of World War I soldiers.
The plan for Dixon’s arch was to keep it for the summer, but interest grew in making it a permanent fixture. However, there were arguments over how to pay for it so there were years of “patch and paste” repairs, and it was secured with cables to keep it from toppling over.
By 1949, there were accounts of it being an “unsightly hazard” and it was rebuilt and rededicated. It was then widened, heightened and rededicated around 1965 when Galena Avenue was expanded to four lanes.
The Victory Memorial Arch Committee was formed in 1979 – today, Paulsen is the last surviving member of the original group – and the arch was once again fixed up and rededicated.
Come 1984, it was decided to take down the arch and replace it with a fiberglass structure, which was built in 1985 and is what greets visitors and community members today.
The presentation was sponsored by the Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society as well as the Dixon Chamber of Commerce and Main Street, and plans are in the works to have a parade celebrating the arch’s centennial.