This slant-front writing desk belonged to John Lawrence Dawson, Sr. (1849-1926), who lived in the Beall-Dawson House – our museum – from his 1871 marriage until his death. John grew up in Rockville at Rocky Glen, his parents’ farm; married Amelia Somervell in 1871; and raised nine children with her in the Rockville home of Amelia’s cousin, Margaret Beall.

What did John Dawson do at his desk? As a farmer – but more of a “gentleman farmer” than an out-in-the-fields-all-day deal – he would have had paperwork related to farm management (he helped run Rocky Glen after his father’s death). He is also said to have helped his cousin-in-law Margaret Beall (who owned the Beall-Dawson House until her 1901 death) with the management of her many properties. He ran for elected office in Rockville a few times, finally winning a seat as a town councilman for one term, 1906-1908. Several of his relatives – including two siblings and a few sons – moved out west, but the family remained close, staying in contact through correspondence and visits. No letters, campaign materials, or farm paperwork survive (that we know of), but we can imagine that the desk saw a fair bit of action over the years.

The desk is made in the Eastlake style, and probably dates to the 1880s or ‘90s. The Eastlake style is simpler than overwrought Victorian furniture; it was also more affordable, usually made of less expensive wood, and often mass-produced. The rail on the top of the desk is a mild, unelaborate example of an Eastlake-ish design, a nice touch on what is otherwise a practical and unpretentious piece of furniture. The writing surface is covered with black leather; the interior cubbies are plain (except for some fancy edges on one side). It is in pretty good condition, but the leather shows some wear, and there are ink stains on the wood around it, probably spillage around the edges of an inkwell. I haven’t been able to find a maker’s mark or store label on our desk, but the owner helpfully stamped his name on the inside, in case we had any doubt.

John’s granddaughter, Amelia Farmer Nicholson, purchased the desk at her aunt Margaret’s estate sale in the late 1930s, and donated it to the Historical Society in 1978. Although it has only been on display occasionally over the years, we’ve added it to the furnishings of one of the bedrooms – the back room, said to have been used by John later in his life.

(A note of thanks is due to those of you who responded to last week’s “what do you want to see?” query.  I’ve made notes, and will try to fulfill requests over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, here is a photo of a photo of Mr. Dawson – cleverly getting around the still-unresolved question of the best way to put our photos online – and keep sending requests!)

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