Local History By Local Authors

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.

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The collection of local history and genealogy books, papers and other forms of media continues to grow in the Research Center at the Fenton History Center now located at the Hall House on Forest Avenue. Many researchers use our collection for both local history and for family history.

Often they write books or compile genealogies on family group sheets or printout pages from their computerized genealogies. Very often researchers donate a copy of their book to our collection and for this we are grateful. Today most local history books treat a niche subject in greater detail than can be covered in a general history of the area. These books are longer than a magazine article but may not be the size of a popular novel. There are three such local histories that we have recently received that show this, as well as, add to the body of knowledge about this area.

All three are on a specific subject, covering various time spans and very different subjects. One is “A Brief History of Bethel Lutheran Church, Jamestown, New York.” The Heritage Committee of the Church has been working on organizing and indexing many of the early records, photographs and other treasures. They then proceeded to use the records and information, plus interviews with people, to write the history of the church. Earlier histories had been written, so this one is an overview and update of the earlier histories. Marlin Casker was the principal writer of this history. The history of the church is put into the context of the history of the city and the nation. Although it is only 30 pages, it forms a good outline of the story of the church and encourages a reader that is looking for more information to contact the church for further research.

Another book, full of information and many photographs is by Andy Dufresne, formerly with Cornell Cooperative Extension. His book, “Traversing America’s Grape Country; A Personal Guide to the Eastern Lake Erie Grape Region,” is a history and a tour guide to the grape growing region in Chautauqua County, stretching into Erie County, Pa. It is the history of the grape growing area and all that it encompasses. It shows off the small towns and hamlets of the area and the many activities and people who work in the vineyards and wineries, as well as, many others interacting with the industry and the local scene.

Fletcher E. Ward is the author of “Saving Chautauqua’s Muskies; A One Hundred Twenty-Five Year History of Rearing Muskellunge on Chautauqua Lake.” If you have lived in Chautauqua County, you have probably heard about fishing for a “muskie” in Chautauqua Lake. The muskie is a large fish, and these fish were abundant in the very early days of settlement. The abundance dwindled as fishermen used nets and spears to augment their lines and hooks to provide fish for the growing populations in this area and beyond. Early efforts to curb the overfishing in Chautauqua Lake were eventually followed in other lakes in New York. But it was the beginning of fish culture in this area that saved the muskellunge and the popularity of fishing in Chautauqua Lake. By raising muskellunge to restock the lake, fishing was supported from year to year. This book tells the story of the fish hatcheries that developed on Chautauqua Lake and how they pioneered the science of fish culture, saving Chautauqua’s muskies.

These three samples of local history books show the diverse niches of local history written by people who have a personal interest in their subject. They may not be the latest best seller but the local history books, plus family genealogies, capture and preserve what is special about our area.

This Saturday the Fenton History Center is hosting its annual local history festival, Old Fashion Day. Many old-time handcrafts will be demonstrated; leather making, shingle making, tatting, quilting, and woodcarving using a limb from one of the Fenton Park trees. Carriage rides for a small fee, a children’s area, a Civil War re-enactor’s camp, fresh popped kettle corn and food will be available all day. Locally made early guns will be on display. A large marble display will be shown. Picks and Hammers, a local acoustic group will play folk music. 2013 is the Fenton’s 50th Anniversary year and 1963 cars will be featured. All 1963 vehicles are invited to share the day in Fenton Park. Saints & Sinners Cemetery tickets will be available during the festival.

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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.