Thursday, November 07, 2013

Col. Dungan's chair

Local history museums, for better or worse, also serve as community attics --- but the goal always is to be better organized and also to explain why an object is significant. That's quite the task and it's a never-ending one.

That's why I spent a little time Monday upgrading the explainer card for this magnificent walnut office chair, a great piece of furniture in its own right but treasured primarily because of its relationship with pioneer Chariton attorney Warren S. Dungan.

Dungan was quite the guy and among other accomplishments founded Iowa's first county-level historical society --- in Chariton. Unfortunately, that organization died with the pioneer generation that organized it and wasn't resurrected until 1965.

Dungan was born Sept. 12, 1822, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and like many young people didn't quite know what he wanted to do with his life. He did know, however, that he didn't want to farm. So he acquired enough education to qualify himself to teach school.

In 1851, when he was 29, he moved to Mississippi and opened a "select school" of his own, which he operated until 1855. During that period he also commenced study of the law, returned to Pennsylvania to complete those studies and was admitted to the bar in 1856.

He came immediately to Lucas County and opened a practice in Chariton, where he married Abby Kingman Proctor in 1859.

Dungan was elected to the Iowa Senate during 1861, but in response to a call from Gov. Samuel Kirkwood shifted his attention to recruiting a company of volunteers in Lucas County for Civil War service. That unit was regularized and mustered in as Co. K, 34th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, in Burlington during October, 1862, with Dungan as captain.

Dungan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and shortly before his discharge during 1865 was breveted to the rank of full colonel --- a common honorary step upward in rank at the close of the war for officers who had served meritoriously.

He returned to Chariton and served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1880-1884 and again in the Senate from 1888-1892 before being elected lieutenant governor of Iowa during the fall of 1893. He served two years in that position, 1894 and 1895.

And this is where the chair enters the picture. We're not sure if it was his office chair or his ceremonial chair --- used behind the high bench when presiding over the Senate. At that time, Iowa's lieutenant governors also were presidents of the Senate. It's walnut grandeur kind of suggests that it might have come from the Senate chamber, but we can't be sure of that.

Whatever the case, when Dungan retired during January of 1896 the chair came home to Chariton with him, a common legislative gesture when honored politicians left office in Des Moines.

Dungan continued to practice law in Chariton well into his 80s and died on May 9, 1913, at the age of 90.

Warren and Abby Dungan had a large family, but no grandchildren. Some of their daughters did not marry, others married but had no children and their only son died as a young man. So there was no one to pass family treasures on to.

Partly because of that, the Dungan daughters gave the chair to First Presbyterian Church after their father's death. He had been a longtime member and elder of that congregation. The chair was maintained carefully by the congregation until 2006, when it was passed on to the Lucas County Historical Society.

So stop by and visit Col. Dungan's chair some time, but please abstain from trying it on for size. In fact, the new explainer card now sits where Lt. Gov. Dungan once did to discourage that temptation.

No comments: