A Fenton Story

The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.

If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or information@fentonhistorycenter.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.

Almost 85 years ago, Catherine Fenton of Jamestown went for an airplane ride in Florida. It was February 1928, and Catherine had just celebrated her 104th birthday while visiting her daughter in Florida.

In an interview she had expressed a desire to take a flight. It was arranged that George W. Haldeman, of Lakeland, Fla., would be the pilot for the flight. Haldeman had just a few months before been on the flight across the Atlantic with Ruth Elder, an actress, model and an aviatrix, when she attempted to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. They went down in the water about 300 miles from the Azores but were rescued.

Catherine enjoyed her flight and wrote an article about it that was published as an Associated Press story in a number of newspapers. She ended the story by saying, “I hope to try it again sometime. I think it would be lots better going to our home in New York and back every year than coming by train or automobile.”

Catherine died in December of that year a couple of weeks shy of her 105th birthday.

Her obituary in the Jamestown Journal told many aspects of her life that had been related in an earlier interview with her. She was born in Ireland, came to the United States as a child, lived in New England, had worked in the textile mills, and later lived in Buffalo and Jamestown.

She had lived in Kiantone next to the Prendergast farm and had known Catherine “Kittie” Prendergast. But for a genealogist and for someone who works at the Fenton History Center, the obituary did not tell who she was as to who her parents were and to which Fenton she was married.

Using some of the information from the obituary and doing some additional research has answered this question. It also answered another question that had been raised while reading about and doing some more research on Harmonia, the Spiritualist colony in Kiantone in the 1850s. Included in the group of people associated with Harmonia at one time was a “Horace Fenton.” My question was just who was he and was he in any way related to the governor?

Without telling the twists and turns of research, it was determined that Catherine was married to the Horace that had been in Harmonia. He was from Cleveland, was married and had a family there. His wife died in 1856. By the 1860 census, Catherine and Horace were married, and had two young children plus a 12-year-old son living with them in Kiantone. Horace died in 1885, leaving Catherine and a number of children from his second marriage. Catherine seems to have continued to live in the Jamestown area as her children became adults and married. Some of the daughters moved to Florida, which prompted Catherine to spend winters there. The 12-year-old son, George B., was a son from Catherine’s first marriage, but he continued to be a Fenton in the few records found about him.

It turns out that this Horace Fenton is related to the governor. Horace and Reuben are third cousins one generation removed. Horace’s grandfather was Jonathan, an older brother of Jacob and Nathaniel. Jacob was the potter who settled in Jamestown, and Nathaniel was the colonel who settled in Jamestown. They were grandsons of the immigrant Robert Fenton. Reuben’s father, George Washington Fenton, was a great-great grandson of Robert, the immigrant.

Catherine must have had a very interesting life and lived it to the fullest, since at the age of 104, she bobbed her hair, as was the latest fashion, and she went for an airplane ride and decided that would be the way to travel from Jamestown to Florida.

The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.

Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.

If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.