Governor Reuben Eaton Fenton (1819-1895)
The Fenton History Center launched a new program focused on Veterans in 2014. The Fenton Mansion, owned by U. S. Representative, New York State Governor and U.S. Senator Reuben E. Fenton has always been associated with veterans. Governor Reuben E. Fenton was nicknamed “The Soldier’s Friend” for his efforts to obtain pension benefits for the War of 1812 soldiers from Chautauqua County. Fenton served as a Representative from New York during the first four years of the Civil War and was elected Governor in 1865 and served in that capacity until 1869. He was directly involved with the War Department’s quota requests for New York State. Gov. Fenton was known for his visits to the Washington, D.C. hospitals during the War and his concern for our local men and their families left behind. The Mansion was also the last national office of the G.A.R. which served the Civil War Veterans. Many veterans groups have met in the Mansion from the mid-1920s to the 1960s. Selective Services was also housed in the Mansion for a time.
The program titled “Vets Finding Vets” benefits both the Veterans involved in the program and the genealogy library and Fenton History Center researcher Barbara Cessna, who has a strong interest in Veterans and their local stories, suggested a genealogy based program for our local veterans that would assist both the veterans and the Center. A similar program is coordinated by the Sons of the American Revolution at Walter Reed Hospital with injured troops.
The Fenton research center provides a volunteer to assist the Veterans working on either their family genealogy or non-related Veterans. There is a great need to uncover the lives and stories of War of 1812, Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans from Chautauqua County. In turn, through this program, new information is continually added to the center’s collection. Members of the Vets Finding Vets program are encouraged to submit their own military history.
FROM FENTON LEGACY TO VETS FINDING VETS 2017
Many people are surprised to learn that a person from rural Chautauqua County was elected Governor of New York State for two terms. Born in 1819, in what is now Carroll, Reuben E. Fenton began his political career by becoming Carroll’s youngest Supervisor at the tender age of 27. He was re-elected Carroll Supervisor seven times and thus began his journey toward Governorship. Once elected to the House of Representatives in 1852, Fenton’s first act as Congressman from the 31st District was to introduce a bill to grant relief to the surviving invalids of the Revolution and the War of 1812.
Fenton also advocated laws to facilitate furloughs and discharges for disabled Civil War soldiers, payments of bounties and arrears of pay due to wounded and deceased soldiers, and to simplify the application form for pensions. Small wonder that by the time he was nominated for Governor, he had earned the title of “The Soldier’s Friend”. As Governor during the last few months of the Civil War, Fenton continued his efforts to help families locate their soldier sons, “franked” their letters with his signature so they could send them without postage, and continued many long months forward to visit the wounded in hospitals. Often these late night hospital vigils also included trips to the War and Navy Departments as he worked through the needed paperwork to ease the burden on the soldiers and their families.
In keeping with this Fenton tradition, when the City of Jamestown purchased the Fenton homestead in 1919, it was to serve as a Soldier and Sailor Memorial. Many patriotic organizations held their monthly meetings in the various rooms within the mansion. Among them are:
Daughters of the American Revolution, Grand Army of the Republic James Brown Post #258 and the Women’s Relief Corp (Ladies Auxiliary), Union Veterans Legion and their Ladies’ Auxiliary, Sons of Veterans James Hall Camp #111 and the Ladies’ Auxiliary, Daughters of Union Veterans, United Spanish War Vets Samuel Porter Camp #45, American Legion Ira Lou Spring Post #149 and Auxiliary, American Legion Drum Corp, Disabled American War Vets Robert Illig Post #47 and Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars John Tiffany Post and Auxiliary, Catholic Veterans Post #1658 and Auxiliary, Earl A. Morley Barracks #1036 Veterans of WWI and Auxiliary, British Great War Veterans Assoc. including Camp Vimy Post and Auxiliary, and US Selective Service Board.
Amazingly, the Fenton Mansion also served as the National Headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic. National Secretary Cora Gillis served at her post in Jamestown from 1945 – 1956. In her office at the Mansion, she recorded the death of the very last Civil War soldier, Albert Woolson of Duluth, MN, when he died Aug 2, 1956.
With knowledge of the many Patriotic organizations who called the Fenton Mansion their meeting place, we draw great pride in continuing the Fenton Legacy. On Nov. 11, 2014, we began a new program called Vets Finding Vets, which allows free access to the Fenton Research Center for Veterans, active military, and Reservists. It enables them to use our facility, resources, and assistance to start or further their family history, locate old service buddies, or to help collect information regarding the old soldiers buried in Chautauqua County cemeteries. Veterans are encouraged to contribute their own military record, photos, and memories of their service for our collection in order that they may be preserved and shared.