Meet Gov. Samuel Kirkwood: The man behind the roundabout statue on main campus

Statue of former Iowa Gov. Samuel Kirkwood
The replica of the statue of former Iowa Gov. Samuel Kirkwood sits in the roundabout outside Linn Hall. PHOTO BY LIAM HALAWITH

The original statue of former Iowa Gov. Samuel Kirkwood was created by Vinnie Ream and was donated by the state of Iowa to the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Capitol building, according to Kirkwood Library Archivist Sarah Young. 

The statue is one of two representatives from Iowa that are in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.  

The current version of the statue that rests in the roundabout outside Linn Hall is a replica of the statue that still sits in the Statuary Hall in D.C. It was created in 1925, financed by the Johnson County Old Settlers organization and donated to the University of Iowa, which then placed the statue in the Old Capitol building at the center of its campus. 

During renovations in the 1970s the statue was offered to Kirkwood. The superintendent of Kirkwood at the time was Selby Ballantyne, who accepted the statue. It was displayed in Linn Hall until renovations in 2012 had the statue moved to the roundabout where it now sits. 

According to the Iowa Legislature website, the statue sits as a reminder of Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s “Great War Governor” for his tenacity and leadership during the Civil War where he raised 49 regiments of Iowa soldiers for the Union army.  

He moved to the Iowa City area in 1855, where he set up a flour mill in Coralville. Kirkwood became interested in the newly formed Republican party during his time in Iowa, after intending to leave politics for good. He became the livelihood of the Iowa Republican party and was a vicious anti-slavery advocate and was elected to the state senate for the first time in 1856 where he served until 1859.  

In 1859, he began his campaign for governor of Iowa, where he defeated Augustus C. Dodge after a divisive campaign that mainly focused on slavery. In the years after he was elected, he became known for his support of militant abolitionists who attacked slave compounds to free enslaved people.  

He also served as a U.S. Senator for Iowa two separate times. The first was to fill the seat of James Harlan who had been chosen to be on Lincoln’s cabinet. Then after his second gubernatorial term he was re-elected to the senate. He later vacated his seat to be the Secretary of the Interior during Andrew Garfield’s administration.  

Kirkwood was known to be an avid abolitionist in Iowa during the Civil War, advocating for the freedom of enslaved people in the south during the Civil War.  Kirkwood died in 1894 in Iowa City and is buried in Oakland Cemetery. Today he is remembered in the roundabout where he greets current and future Eagles.

Image courtesy of Liam Halawith | Kirkwood Communiqué

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