Originally featured in Points West magazine in Fall 2014
James Burnie Beck’s chair from the House of Representatives
A few treasures from our vaults reflect some remarkable national connections, including this chair used by U.S. Senator James Burnie Beck (1822 – 1890). It was manufactured circa 1856 by Bembe and Kimmel of New York for the United States House of Representatives.
James Beck emigrated from Scotland in 1838 to join his parents in western New York, and later traveled through the Great Lakes region and floated the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Upon settling in Lexington, Kentucky, Beck became a lawyer and partnered with John C. Breckinridge, who served during the Civil War as the Vice President and Secretary of War for the Confederacy. In 1848, Beck married George Washington’s grandniece Jane Washington Augusta Thornton (1825 – 1887), despite her parent’s objection to her marrying a foreigner.
The citizens of Kentucky elected the Democratic Beck to the House of Representatives for four consecutive terms beginning in 1866, where he acquired this chair, along with a desk made by Doe, Hazelton & Company of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1873. Beck served three terms in the United States Senate starting in 1876. James Beck’s son George Washington Thornton Beck (1856 – 1943) acquired this chair, as well as the desk, and brought both items with him to the town of Cody, Wyoming, a community he assisted in founding with William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the mid-1890s.
House of Representatives chair, ca. 1856. 1.69.2163