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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

BONSON, Robert

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Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/90377609/person/432037015404/facts?_phsrc=TrL4283&_phstart=successSource

Robert Bonson. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

BONSON, Robert. (Dubuque County, IA, Jan. 5, 1868--Dubuque, IA, Dec. 13, 1933). A son of Richard BONSON, Robert was educated in the public schools of Dubuque, Bonson graduated from the University of Iowa Law School and took an additional two years of legal studies at the Columbia Law School.

He returned to to Dubuque and became a partner of his brother William Watts BONSON in the practice of law. Interested in politics, he took part in the presidential campaign of 1892 as the president of the Young Men's Democratic Club. (1) Between 1895 and 1898 Bonson, the son of Richard BONSON filled the unexpired term of Senator Baldwin in the Iowa Legislature. Only twenty-six when he entered the legislature, he was the youngest member of the senate. (2)

Bonson retired from his legal practice shortly after November 10, 1901 and took over the position of manager of the IOWA IRON WORKS. (3) He was also involved in the SMEDLEY STEAM PUMP COMPANY with his brother William Watts BONSON. The company manufactured a house boiler the two brothers had invented both for steam and hot water. (4)

In 1906 Robert Bonson was appointed a district court judge, a position he held for thirteen years. He was the secretary of the NUTWOOD DRIVING CLUB, director of the GERMAN BANK and ERWIN AND WOOD, and helped in the founding, building and operation of SUNNYCREST SANITORIUM and served on its board of directors. He was a charter member of the DUBUQUE GOLF CLUB and held memberships in the DUBUQUE TRAVELING AND BUSINESS MEN'S ASSOCIATION and the DUBUQUE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.

Before September 20, 1904 a large amount of money was borrowed for the Iowa Iron Works. Notes were signed or endorsed by both W. W. and Robert Bonson and given to Peter KIENE with the assurance that he would be responsible for the debt. There was no further accounting between the Bonsons and Kiene, who paid the interest on the indebtedness, but sold the notes to other parties. In 1914 the firm of PETER KIENE AND SON fell into bankruptcy. The total Bonson indebtedness came to $150,000 (worth $3,697,860.00 in 2018). (5)

Burnage Villa (1951) Photo courtesy: Robert E. Bonson

Their assets, which had not been appraised, were turned over to the bankruptcy court. Included were holdings in the Bonson Concentrator Company with its subsidiaries, over forty separate tracts of land and their holdings in over 1,000 acres of mineral lots, lands and properties in Dubuque County, and the residence and farm of about 140 acres known as "Burnage Villa" which had been the homestead of the Bonson family for over thirty years. The name came from Burnage Lane in Manchester, England where Harriet Bonson, Richard's wife, had lived before coming to America. The only exceptions were claimed for life insurance and person and household goods and wages. (6) His mansion and estate eventually became FOUNTAIN PARK.

Mary Ellen Bonson, one of the two daughters of Richard BONSON, married Charles Simplot. Richard's son, Richard, was instrumental in getting Simplot's son Charles Richard, access to the properties of his father after his death and before Charles Richard and his family moved to Idaho. Charles Richard's son was John Richard SIMPLOT. (7)



1. "Senator R. Bonson," Dubuque Herald, January 15, 1896, p. 29

2. "Robert Bonson, Former Judge, Dies Suddenly," The Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, December 14, 1933, p. 7

3. Bonson, Robert E. The Bonson Diaries, June 16, 2008, p. 7

4. Goodspeed, Weston Arthur, History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 650

5. "Bonsons File Petitions in Bankruptcy," The Telegraph-Herald, February 17, 1914, p. 1

6. Ibid.

7. Bonson, Robert E. The Bonson Diaries, June 16, 2008 Available in the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY