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.
By Paula Bechmann
The Fenton History Center has on display in its front vestibule for the holidays an elegant ball gown from the 1860s. This French silk dress of a deep rose peau de soie was owned by Margaret Cook Allen of Jamestown.
This time of year finds us in the middle of two significant and festive holidays that are only a week apart. For us women it is always a challenge to find the appropriate clothing to wear to each and every event to which we are invited.
In Jamestown's early years, ready-made clothes were not easy to come by, if at all, especially elegant ball gowns needed for special parties and events. Back then it was common to wear a dress many times due to the cost and availability of a fine seamstress.
The Fenton History Center has on display in our front vestibule for the holidays an elegant ball gown from the 1860s. This French silk dress of a deep rose peau de soie was owned by Margaret Cook Allen of Jamestown.
Margaret was the wife of Col. Augustus Allen, the son of Elisha Allen, one of Jamestown's early settlers. The Allen family was into real estate, hotels, lumbering, the mercantile business, among other investments. One would find their name on the Allen Opera House, which is now known as the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, and also the property donated to the city of Jamestown for a park, which we know as Allen Park.
Augustus Allen was commissioned a colonel during the Civil War and had the responsibility of recruiting volunteers for the formation of the New York state 112th Regiment. He was also in command of Camp Brown, located on the south side of Jamestown near the area where Fletcher Elementary is located today.
Margaret Allen was known as a "highly perceptive and religious woman" and became involved in the political issues of the day, including emancipation, temperance, elimination of child labor, developing a utopian government and a reformed "Liberal Republican party."
It was reported she was instrumental in forming the Unitarian Church in Jamestown. During a social function in the home of P.T. Barnum around 1856, Margaret met Horace Greeley. They became good friends and had a lasting personal and social relationship. It was said that Mrs. Allen was not a slave to fashion. There would have been many occasions to wear the dress, either in Jamestown, her hometown of New York City, or perhaps in Chappaqua, where Horace Greeley owned a summer home.
We do know that it was at the celebration party, the evening Greeley was nominated for the presidency in 1874, that she wore the elegant, rose-colored ball gown that is now on display.
Although Christmas is over, the Fenton History Center is still dressed for the occasion. Our holiday exhibit will be on display through Jan. 18. Stop by and relive the holiday with your family or friends. We are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. - except on New Year's Eve we will be closing at 1 p.m. and will be closed for New Year's Day.
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.