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.
Nearly every American citizen then living was involved one way or another in the life and death struggle of World War II. The Fenton Historical Society was not formed until two decades later, but here at the mansion the draft board was located in our building from about 1942 through the war and until about 1959.
The WWII era, two-man fire extinguisher in the Fenton History Center’s collection.
Buses of recruits left from here for Buffalo. Mothers, wives, and girlfriends waved and cried in the parking lot. Some of those boys returned as men. Some didn't return at all.
Out front the lawn sloped more gradually than now down to Fenton Place, a small street at the back edge of Brooklyn Square. In the park in front of the building stood the Honor Roll Board with the names of local men in the military services. The board was blown to shreds, two of which are in our collection, by the tornado of Sunday, June 10, 1945, that caused extensive damage all the way down Harrison Street.
Harrison Street at the time was filled with businesses and factories. German prisoners of war, normally housed at the fair grounds in Dunkirk, were brought here to help with the cleanup. They were directed and fed from the Fenton Mansion.
Looking at the pictures of the magnitude of destruction from the tornado, one can only imagine the devastation and terror a bombing raid would produce.
After Pearl Harbor the government set up a complex and elaborate civilian defense system in an effort to cope preemptively with further attacks on American soil.
In 2009 we were given a World War II Civil Defense fire extinguisher. It is nothing but a four gallon intermittent or discontinuous sprayer, possibly adequate for controlling small bonfires. But it would be far less effective than a bucket brigade for a building fire - and it took two people to operate it properly.
It is well-made by the Keen Equipment Company of Vineland, N. J. It consists of a galvanized steel tank, slightly larger at the top than the bottom, a long neoprene rubber hose with a Bakelite nozzle and a peculiar sheet metal deflector at the end, and the simplest form of single-action pump fixed by metal screws in the non-removable lid. The tank is never pressurized. There is a fold down steel stirrup at the base. One man stands on that and operates the wooden pump handle. Every lift produces a squirt of water. A second man directs the hose. The top of the pump has a flip cover over a fill hole and two sturdy steel handles.
The accompanying booklet describes air attacks with fire bombs that were also rigged to explode in addition to setting fires thereby forcing fire guards to stand off. Fire guards and sector posts were issued the extinguishers.
Fire guards were not air raid wardens. They and some 17 other categories of Civil Defense volunteers are listed in the Civil Defense booklet. Some of the others attend to communications, emergency welfare, gas reconnaissance, medical emergencies and road repair.
Wisdom and competence, like valor and virtue, are rare in human history. Amidst the courage and sacrifices also lurk bumbling and waste. It is fortunate for us that our parents and grandparents in the Greatest Generation were never forced to fall back on these feeble fire extinguishers to survive and triumph in World War II.
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.