A Fenton Family Legacy

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.

Maude Louise Fenton was born on New Year’s Day in 1875. Her parents were George Washington and Louraine Augusta (Dockstader) Fenton of Randolph. Maude’s grandfather was John Freeman Fenton, a brother of Gov. Reuben E. Fenton.

The carriage in the above photograph is now in the collection of the Fenton History Center. This is the carriage that George and Louraine had in Randolph when their daughter was old enough to be taken out for a stroll and, of course, to show her off to the residents of the village. Living in a village, as opposed to a farm in the country, gave George and Louraine near neighbors and possibly even sidewalks on which they could wheel their new baby in a new baby carriage. This carriage was much like a horse drawn carriage of the time and afforded the baby a comfortable ride as it did have a spring suspension over the rear axle. The cab was black leather with windowed side and rear curtains that could be removed. The body was wood, painted black and maroon with gold decorations and had three small pictures of young women’s faces. The decorative painting on the baby carriage is like the painting that was done on larger carriages.

By the 1870s, baby carriages were becoming the type that could be pushed rather than pulled, as the earlier versions had been. It was important during that part of the Victorian era to embrace nature and the out-of-doors. The baby carriage provided the opportunity to go out in nature for both the parents and the child. And it also allowed the parents to be part of the social scene, the elaborate carriage telegraphing their social status and, especially for the mother, showing that she was a nurturing mother. The baby carriage that could be pushed, prominently displayed the child to passers-by while it also restrained the child.

In 1873, Charles H. Amidon, a machinist and tool maker, of Millers Falls, Massachusetts received a patent for improvements to a baby carriage. The pictured baby carriage in the patent drawing is remarkably like the baby carriage in the Fenton History Center Collection. One of the improvements was too allow the handle to be switched to the other end of the carriage. Another improvement was the use of a hinge in the seat so that it could be flattened so the baby could lay flat instead of sitting up. A third improvement involved the springs at the rear to be attached to a bolster instead of directly to the axle thus ensuring a smoother ride when the carriage was pushed over an uneven surface. None of these improvements are present on the carriage in the collection. And we do not know if any of these patented improvements were ever used on a baby carriage. Amidon did have a building built in Millers Falls which was completed in January 1871 and was given over to the manufacturing of baby carriages. Charles E. Fisk, a coach maker, was a partner in the venture. There is no mention of the manufacturer on the museum’s paperwork for the carriage and it is too fragile to quickly inspect it at this point. The carriages in the Nanny’s Room exhibit are some of the most fragile pieces in the Fenton collection.

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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.