From the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, June 7, 1900.
Six-term U.S. Representative Blackburn Barrett Dovener can rightly be considered an "old guard" strange name political figure, as I first happened across his name over a decade ago! One of the most prominent public figures in West Virginia at the turn of the 19th century, Dovener represented West Virginia's 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for twelve years and had earlier served one term in the state legislature from Ohio County.
Blackburn Barrett Dovener was born in Cabell County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) on April 20, 1842, being the son of Dr. Robert George and Julia Ann Barrett Dovener. His early education was gained via the district schools of Cabell County and he would later attend the Parkersburg Academy. He would put his education on hold to enlist for service at the start of the Civil War, and remained a staunch Union man throughout the conflict. At the age of just nineteen, he raised a company of men, Co. A. of the Fifteenth Reg. West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and during his war service rose from first lieutenant to captain.
At war's conclusion Dovener resettled in the city of Wheeling where he would marry Ms. Margaret Lynch in December 1865. In 1867 he took on the position of chief clerk in the office of West Virginia Secretary of State John M. Pipes and during his service began the study of law. He was admitted to the state bar in 1873 and soon after established his first law practice in the Wheeling. Throughout the remainder of that decade Dovener built up a reputation as an "able and successful" practitioner of law, and was recorded by the 1903 "Men of West Virginia":
"As a counselor he is safe and wise, and ready in the comprehension of the salient features of a case. As an advocate he is earnest, making his clients case his own. He is ready in debate and fluent in expression. As a man he is affable courteous and polite."During the mid to late 1870s, Dovener was a member of the firm of Davenport and Dovener, eventually taking over the firm after George O. Davenport's death in 1880. In 1882 he was elected to represent Ohio County in the West Virginia House of Delegates and served during the 1883-85 session. He was a candidate for reelection to the house in 1886 but was "defeated along with the balance of his ticket." Dovener experienced similar results in 1887 when he was the Republican candidate for Mayor of Wheeling, being defeated by Charles Seabright.
Returning to his law practice following his mayoral loss, Dovener waited until 1892 to re-enter political life. In that year he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's 1st congressional district and in that year's election faced incumbent Democrat John Overton Pendleton (1851-1916). On election day it was Pendleton who eked out a narrow victory over Dovener, winning another term by just 206 votes. In 1894 Pendleton decided not to be a candidate for renomination, and in that year's contest, Dovener was once again the Republican nominee, this time squaring off against Democrat John A. Howard. On election day 1894 Dovener coasted to a 4,000 plus vote victory, garnering 21,822 votes to his opponent's 17, 375.
Taking his seat at the start of the 1895-97 session, Dovener served as a member of the committee on Rivers and Harbors during that term. A candidate for reelection in 1896, Doverner won his second term that November and would subsequently be reelected to four further terms in 1898, 1900, 1902 and 1904. In 1906 he failed to win the Republican nomination for a seventh term (the nod instead going to William P. Hubbard), and upon his retirement from Congress, Dovener was given a "lively reception and warm-hearted farewell" by his fellow West Virginians.
From the Washington Times, February 18, 1907.
Unfortunately for Dovener, his time in retirement appears to have not been a happy one. Ill health plagued him for "several years" following his leaving Congress and by January 1914 an application was introduced in the West Virginia courts for a "lunacy commission" in regards to Dovener's state of mind, the application being brought about by his wife Margaret.
In a Fairmont, West Virginian article published in January 1914, Margaret Lynch Dovener alleged that her husband could no longer "take proper care of himself or manage his financial affairs." A court hearing began on January 17, 1914, with Dovener representing himself during the proceedings. In what must have been a surreal scene inside the courtroom, Dovener "personally cross-examined" each witness and "wound up each inquiry" by asking the witness "Do you think that I'm crazy?" The Fairmont West Virginian also noted that during the proceedings Dovener appeared lethargic and would "frequently drop off into naps while cross-examining witnesses."
On January 22 the court decided in favor of Margaret Dovener's application, with the former congressman being placed in the charge of Ohio County Sheriff A.T. Sweeney. A few day's following that decision, newspaper reports noted that Dovener would be removed to a recently constructed "soldier's home at Nashville, Tennessee." Sometime later he was removed to a sanitarium in Glen Echo, Maryland, where he died on May 9, 1914 at age 72. He was survived by his wife Margaret and a son, Robert. Following funeral arrangements, Dovener was interred under a modest headstone at Arlington Nation Cemetery.
Blackburn Dovener during his congressional service.