More Than Just Old

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 to share your memory or get an answer to your question.

The soup tureen pictured in the photograph is a recent acquisition for the collection of the Fenton History Center. This item came to us with a provenance that suggested that although it did not start out as a locally connected item it would fit in our collection. One problem with the item is that on one side there is a large “chunk” missing from the rim of the tureen. But there is no crack or evidence that it will continue to break at that point. It can still be displayed with the “good” side facing the audience.

The story of the tureen as it moved with the various owners begins in Kentucky and follows through Arkansas before it heads north and eventually winds up in Chautauqua County for at least the past 40 years. The Johnson family acquired the set of china including the tureen about 1850 which is the year one of the prominent men of Kentucky and a member of the Johnson family died.

This person was Richard Mentor Johnson. Born near present-day Louisville, Ky., in 1780, his family moved farther west and his schooling was meager until he entered Transylvania University and then studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1802. He also owned a store and other business enterprises with his brothers, James and John. He was involved in politics, serving as a U.S. Congressman, a U S. Senator and in the Kentucky House of Representatives. He was a contemporary of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. From 1837-1841, he served as the vice-president of the United States with President Martin Van Buren. He served under William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812. Both the brothers and a nephew, Robert, served as U.S. Congressmen and Robert was also a U.S. Senator. Governor Fenton had a similar career in Washington and Albany beginning only a few years after the death of Richard M. Johnson.

So, with its history connections with Kentucky and Arkansas, why would this tureen fit into the collection of the Fenton History Center? It fits the time period that Reuben and his wife, Elizabeth, were married, as well as, the social and economic status of a politician. It is possible that they had a set of china similar to the set that included this soup tureen. In fact some of the Fenton dishes do have a similar pink color on them. When a dining room is created in the Fenton Mansion, this is an appropriate item to be included in the setting. It is of a time period that the Fentons could have owned such a piece and continued to have it in their possession for many years. Witness the longevity of the piece in that it survived almost whole for over 150 years.

These are the reasons behind the decision to accept this artifact into the collection of the Fenton History Center. As you can see there are a number of considerations we need to think about when accepting or declining items. We always appreciate donors who contact us to see if we can accept items and also why we ask them for information about the item, its owners and its use. Just being old is not the only criteria for adding an item to the 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.

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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.