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 firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
George Washington Fenton was born in 1783. In 1806, his father, Roswell Fenton, left for the west to find their next home site. The west was then Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. His wife, Deborah, and their nine children ranging in age from 31 to 10 years old were to follow in the fall. When the family arrived near Cincinnati, they found that Roswell had died; some say he was murdered for his supposed money.
On July 4, 1934, the 115th anniversary of Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton’s birth, this statue was dedicated in his honor. Sculpted by Bryant Baker, the statue sits near the front entrance of Gov. Fenton’s home.
Deborah and family settled near Cincinnati. Meanwhile, George Washington Fenton struck out on his own ending up following the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers to the Warren, Pa., area. Here he met Elsie Owen. They were married in 1806 and settled in what is now the town of Carroll. Thirteen years later, their fifth and last son was born on the Fourth of July, 1819. This son was Reuben Eaton Fenton. Reuben had some schooling in his neighborhood but did go to Ohio for a couple of terms at Cary's Academy. Cary's Academy was a family connection in that his aunt, Rebecca Fenton, married Dr. Samuel Cary. Cary's Academy became part of Farmers College founded by Freeman Cary, son of Samuel and Rebecca (Fenton) Cary. This was located at College Hill, Ohio, now part of Cincinnati. He finished school in one term at Fredonia Academy and later read law in the offices of the Waite brothers in Jamestown. He soon became involved in lumbering and mercantile enterprises. By the time he was 30 he had been supervisor of the town of Carroll for eight years and was running for state office. He eventually served in the U. S. Congress and the U. S. Senate. He served as governor of New York State from 1865 to 1869. He died in 1885.
Reuben Earle Fenton was the only son of Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton and known to family and friends as Earle. He was born in 1865 and was only 20 when his father died in 1885. Earle married Lillian Hayden of Columbus, Ohio. After Earle died in 1892, Lillian never remarried. She died May 4, 1933, and in her will she left a bequest of $35,000 for a statue of Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton.
The life-size statue of Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton was sculpted by Bryant Baker, a prominent sculptor, living then in New York City. Baker's father, grandfather and brother were all sculptors in England where Bryant Baker learned sculpting while an apprentice to his father. He came to the United States in 1916. Some of the other sculptures by Baker include the Pioneer Woman in Ponca City, Okla.; Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore, both in Buffalo; Caesar Rodney, National Statuary Hall, Washington; and George Washington, George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, Va.
On July 4, 1934, the 115th anniversary of Gov. Reuben Eaton Fenton's birth, the statue was dedicated. It was located in the park at the Fenton Mansion in Jamestown. Baker was in Jamestown when the statue was dedicated. Maj. Gen. Charles J. Bailey presided at the ceremonies. His wife, Elizabeth Hegeman, was the granddaughter of Reuben Eaton Fenton. The formal presentation of the statue was made by the sculptor, Bryant Baker. It was then presented to the city by J. Niven Hegeman, grandson of the governor. The address was given by Dr. Alexander C. Flick, New York State Historian. Barbara Fenton Reynolds, great-great granddaughter of the governor, unveiled the statue.
In 1962, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller turned the first shovelful of earth at the designated new location of the statue. Because the statue was in the path of the planned arterial highway from the south terminus of the Washington Street Bridge, it had to be moved. The move brought the statue of Gov. Reuben E. Fenton closer to the front entrance of his home. It remains there overlooking the city of Jamestown.
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.