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 reelected 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. He also advocated laws to facilitate furloughs and discharges for disabled Civil War soldiers, payments of bounties and arrears of pay due 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, James Hall Camp #111 Sons of Union Veterans 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 in the United States, 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 document 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 be preserved and shared.
The Research Center is handicap accessible, and service dogs are welcome.