Fenton History Center Through The Decades

This article is part of an ongoing series that looks at the history of the Fenton History Center, and how it has grown throughout the decades to keep up with the changing city around it.

After coming to fruition 50 years ago, the Fenton Historical Society saw a period of fantastic growth in the early 1970s.

By 1970, the organization had attracted 840 members, with over half of those members paying dues, which helped to fund the growth of its collections and restorations to the Fenton Mansion, a building which was at this point was more than 100 years old. Over the next five years, membership steadily increased, as well, which only continued to promote growth of the organization. According to newsletters from that time period, a membership drive in the summer of 1970 added 350 individuals to the society’s membership roll. By 1973, membership had once again seen an increase, with 844 paying members, as well as several hundred others.

In addition to membership increasing throughout the first decade of the society’s existence, the amount of visitors to the museum also saw a notable bump. In 1971, more than 2,700 visitors signed the guest register at the museum, which was a new annual high at the time. This included visitors from at least 20 states and four foreign countries. By 1974, though, that number had jumped by nearly 1,000 visitors from as many as 28 states and five foreign countries, showing a large amount of support for the fledgling organization. During that year, which was the busiest year on record for the society up to that point, 55 volunteers logged a total of 2600 hours to help with every aspect of the organization.

During those five years, the Fenton Historical Society also took steps to bring a number of new exhibits and programs to Jamestown in order to maintain interest in the work being done there.

One such program was designed to improve the training of the volunteer guides at the society. In the Nov. 1971 newsletter, it was outlined how vital a role the guides played in interpreting the exhibits of the museum to the public.

The museum also continued to bring in more artifacts for display, including an exhibit in 1972 that consisted of typical 19th century household and farm equipment, woodworking tools, and a variety of other objects.

A number of renovations were also done at the Fenton Mansion, resulting in more space that could be used to house the society’s collections. The “Fenton Bedroom” was restored by a local student named Bruce Anderson, who completed the project for college credit. Local firemen also helped out with the creation of a room in the basement of the mansion that would be used to house memorabilia from the early days of the Jamestown Fire Department.

By 1975, the society had branched out into publishing as well, releasing a booklet on the trolleys of Jamestown and Chautauqua Lake, as well as sponsoring the reprinting of “Young’s History of Chautauqua County” and the printing of an index to “Dilley’s Biographical Cyclopedia of Chautauqua County,” a genealogical publication.

At the end of 1975, the society began gearing up for the bicentennial of the United States, including discussions about holding public forums on topics of local interest and dramatizations of local historic events.

For more information about the Fenton History Center, located at 67 Washington St., visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org or call 664-6256.