Catherine Driscoll Dillon

Catherine Driscoll Dillon was a real character who immigrated to the United States in her late teens.  She and her husband ran a succession of successful boardinghouses where “whiskey was always available” and followed the construction of the railroad all the way to Rouses Point on the New York side of Lake Champlain.  She procured her inventory mostly by smuggling due to the “Maine Law” banning the importation and sale of liquor. Catherine did indeed extricate herself from her marriage in the manner described in this story, however, her scheme was executed successfully years later during the Civil War.  This is her obituary as printed in the “Burlington Free Press” on January 11, 1872:

Catherine Driscoll Dillon was a very remarkable woman, and no one had obtained a greater notoriety.  She came from Ireland a poor and young woman, with her husband about the time of the building of the Vermont Central and Vermont & Canada railroads in the 1840’s.  She kept a boarding-house for the laborers along the line of the road, and she would relocate her business each season as the railroad construction crews progressed up the Winooski River valley west to Rouses Point on the shore of Lake Champlain.

At her boarding-house whiskey was always available to her boarders and others, in spite of the efforts of the contractors.  After the railroads were completed, she moved from Rouses Point to St. Albans, and continued in the same occupation.

About the time the “Maine Law” was first enacted, and for years afterwards, she continued to make life lively for the police forces.  Catherine herself, as well as others whom she would hire, brought the contraband to the States.  Though difficult to capture, she was arrested scores of times, and as often escaped either from the county jail or from the courts of justice.

Some suspect that Catherine had well-developed relationships with those responsible for enforcing the laws and benefited from their assistance.  In 1867 she was indicted by the United States District Court for being connected with smuggling and for trafficking in smuggled liquors.  She was convicted and obliged to submit to a fine of $2000 which she paid.

During the time of the Civil War Catherine had become tired of her husband.  It is important to remember that Catherine had befriended many railroad workers over the years and perhaps knew every railroad worker by name.  She obtained a divorce from her husband, it is claimed, in the following manner:

Mr. and Mrs. Dillon were returning from a trip on the cars when Mr. Dillon failed to find his valise among the baggage on the platform.  On Catherine’s advice he selected another bag from those in the pile of baggage for the purpose of exchanging the bag for his when his was found.  No sooner had they reached home than she procured his arrest for larceny.  The unfortunate man was sentenced to Windsor prison, and as a condition of his release, went out in the Vermont Cavalry Regiment as a bugler.

In one way or another Catherine amassed a considerable fortune, variously estimated at fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars.  In her younger years she was considered handsome, but later her personal beauty had become somewhat failed, owing to the excessive use of stimulants.  At her death she was about forty-five years of age.