Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Col. Dungan's Iowa State Capitol chair

This is another of my favorite pieces of furniture from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, rolled back into the museum library earlier this week as we start to put that room back together.

We call it Col. Dungan's Chair, and can track its presence in Chariton to 1896. It was a chair that Warren S. Dungan used at the Capitol in Des Moines during his 1894-1895 term as Iowa's lieutenant governor, given to him upon retirement. He had been elected first to the Iowa Legislature during 1861 and served in both the House and Senate before being elected lieutenant governor. It was a fairly common practice at the time for an esteemed legislative colleague to be sent home with his chair upon retirement.

What we don't know is whether or not this was among original furnishings in the "new" Capitol upon its completion during 1886, nor are we certain that this was the chair Dungan used behind the high bench in his capacity as president of the Senate, then part of the lieutenant governor's duties. Whatever the case, it's quite a chair.

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.

After retirement during January of 1896, Dungan returned to Chariton with his chair and continued to practice law here until well into his 80s. He also was the organizer of Lucas County's first historical society. He 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.

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.

Dungan is buried in the Chariton Cemetery along with his wife, mother-in-law and father-in-law and all of his children save one, a daughter who is buried with her husband in Ottumwa.

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