Railroad magnate John Insley Blair of New Jersey played a major role in the development of Boone, Boone County and Iowa. He won the race to build the first railroad across the state, founded the City of Boone and platted Moingona, Ogden and Ames.
Blair was born Aug. 22, 1802, at Foul Rift, N.J. Despite limited schooling, his entrepreneurial talents emerged early. By the time he was 19, he was in business with a cousin, buying that business two years later. Soon he owned a chain of five stores, a flour mill, an iron foundry and a bank. It was the foundry that propelled him into railroads.
In the 1830s, Blair became involved in the Oxford Furnace. By 1846, he and his partners formed the Lackawanna Coal and Iron Company. Soon, the company was engaged in building an extension of the Erie Railroad from Port Jervis to Binghamton, N.Y. Leasing additional East Coast railroads, Blair consolidated his growing empire, eventually controlling major mining and railroad interests from the coast to the Midwest.
Blair was a delegate to the 1860 Republication National Convention in Chicago. After the convention, he visited Iowa, where he forged a plan to extend a railroad from Chicago across Iowa, Nebraska and westward. In 1856, Congress had issued land grants to build four railroads across Iowa, including the Iowa Central Airline Road (ICAR). When ICAR failed to take advantage of this land grant, it was reallocated to the Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad (CR&MR), which later became the Chicago and North Western.
By 1861, Blair controlled the CR&MR, and it was his energy and drive that propelled its construction across the state. By 1862, the line had reached Marshalltown; by 1864, Nevada; and by 1865, Boone. Although past 60, Blair himself participated in the surveying of the railroad land. In 1863, he was in Boonesboro. He kept a detailed account of his travels from Boonesboro to eastern Nebraska and back through Iowa via Des Moines and Cedar Rapids to Clinton.
As the railroad neared Boone, Blair negotiated with Boonesboro leaders to purchase land for the railroad and a depot. When the deal fell through, he purchased land east of Boonesboro and helped to plat Montana (Boone), where he built his railroad and depot.
John Insley Blair died in 1899 at the age of 97, leaving a fortune of $70,000,000. During his life, he was a major philanthropist; Grinnell College was a beneficiary. On July 1, 1868, Blair presented Blair Park to the City of Montana (Boone). The park, now truncated by the Boone High School, was located at the juncture of Carroll and Seventh Streets.