21Country: The Decatur home full of history

Charles Dugan House being restored, now a museum to Adams County past
Updated: Jul. 28, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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DECATUR, Ind. (WPTA21) - Drive through Decatur’s busy Monroe Street, and you’ll be sure to pass one of the city’s only remaining homes in the Neoclassical Revival style: the Charles Dugan House. Construction on the elegant structure completed around 1902. For decades, it was the home, and popular gathering place for friends and family of Charles and Fanny Dugan. Today, its current residents are in the process of restoring the home — reversing damage from 120 years of decay and weather.

“This home was bought in 1968 by the Adams County Historical Society, to serve as a meeting place, and to display the collections,” president Sandy Collier told us. “He came to Adams County from Pennsylvania,” she said of Dugan, “he came as the superintendent of the Decatur schools.” He married Frances “Fanny” Dorwin in 1890. Though teaching brought the DeKalb County native back to Northeast Indiana for several years, but it would also take him away. Dugan spent two years as a math professor at a university in Illinois.

Fourteen years later, his father-in-law Dr. Thomas Dorwin, asked Dugan to help with running Decatur National Bank — an institution Dorwin helped found, as his health declined. “Charles began as a cashier, and worked up his way to president of the bank,” Collier shared. Before Dorwin died, he transferred all his bank stocks to Fanny. It was her, who had the Charles Dugan House built. “The deed is in Fanny’s name alone — and we believe it was her bank shares from her father, that allowed her to build this house,” Collier said. “To me, it points out that she was one of the first women… to be independent, and make such purchases and decisions on her own.” The single-family mansion cost an enormous amount at the time: $15,000 dollars.

Over the years, the Charles Dugan House would be a destination for high society gatherings, weddings, and funerals. Many events, would even be written about in the local newspaper. The Decatur Democrat published details of daughter Naomi Dugan’s wedding ceremony. “They served 150 people dinner in this house, in that dining room,” Collier explained, “so they had to do it in shifts — which meant they had to have people entertained out here, the entire time. I think that alone is a feat, especially after you see the kitchen!” Fanny Dugan’s cousin Charles, husband to famous author Gene Stratton-Porter, had his funeral at the home.

When Fanny Dugan died, her daughter Frances took over the home. She passed in 1967, and bidding for the home began. Though offers over $20,000 were given, favor was shown to the Adams County Historical Society, who bought the home for $17,250. By then, it had fallen into disrepair. It later opened as a museum, showcasing the historical society’s vast collection of history tied to Adams County. Over the last five years, with the help of $140,000 in several grants, Collier says vast improvements have been made. “It is an expensive endeavor,” she told us. “Most of that has gone into the outside restoration of the building to make it watertight and safe, so we can maintain the collection inside.”

Earlier in the spring, work was done to fix leaking in the dining room — the first of many projects to restore the interior to original condition. “When it was built, it was the most expensive home in Adams County. It just has features that are no longer put into a home,” Collier concluded. “Personally, I want people to come in and just enjoy the architecture and design of this home, even though it’s not back to the way it was when it was built. It is our goal to achieve that some day.” Descendants of Charles Dugan have since moved out of the area, but have continued to donate pieces of furniture and even an antique clock recently.

Complete information on the Charles Dugan House can be found via an application to the National Register of Historic Places, a recognition awarded in 2009. The Adams County Historical Society Museum is open every Sunday in August from 1-4 p.m. or by calling for an appointment. Admission is $5.

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