Curator’s Corner – March 2022

This month, at the urging of some of our members, I want to give everyone a peek into what we do here at the Fenton History Center. This month’s article will feature a couple stories of items identified or located in February 2022.

One of the requests that came into our Research Center this month was someone looking for a date for a particular photograph featuring several of the Steamboats that used to grace Chautauqua Lake. The photo was taken in the boat landing. After some discussion the photo was passed to me, since I scanned our collection of steamboat photos in 2016. After months of scanning, labeling and sorting I have become quite familiar with the steamboats, and unexpectedly learned to identify them. 

This particular image, shown here, looked familiar. After searching through the scans of our collection I found several copies of the same image, labeled 1890’s or 1893 or 1890-1900. This particular researcher was looking for something closer than this, so I consulted the Chautauqua Lake Steamboats book by the Fenton History Center, last published in 2012.  Using the book, and the boat names listed on the photograph I was able to narrow it down. The large steamer the Jamestown is easily recognizable with its large stern wheel. The Jamestown met an untimely demise in October of 1892 when it caught fire, so this photo has to be taken before October 1892. The next biggest clue to dating this photo was an identifier labeling one of the boats as the City of Cleveland. This ship was built in 1891 and cruised the lake under the name the W.C. Rinearson for the first year. It became the City of Cleveland in 1892. The photo you see here could not have been taken before 1891 or after 1892. Copies of the Chautauqua Lake Steamboats book are still available for purchase in our gift shop. 

One of the many types of requests we get at the Fenton are request to see artifacts for historical research. Last week one of our members drew a sketch of an item he was hoping we had an example of, and asked if the Fenton had one of these items. I recognized it immediately from his sketch as a torch for fishing. This iron torch attached to the front of a boat and held pine knots that were lit on fire to allow the fishermen to spear fish at night. The torch was on exhibit in the Chautauqua Lake Room at the Fenton until that exhibit closed in 2018. Since then it had been sitting waiting to be properly identified, photographed and stored away. This particular request was for a photo of one for an upcoming book about the fishing industry, as he had only been able to find photos of one other example online. I was very excited to be able to quickly provide an example of a torch, and I look forward to seeing it in print in the near future. 

This is just a small sampling of the research and requests that are conducted and fulfilled at the Fenton Research Center on a daily basis. If you have questions like these please consider contacting our staff and volunteers at the Research Center. 

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