Jamestown Historical Society: The 1930s Attempt At A Local Society

The Fenton Historical Society of Jamestown is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The society has been housed at the Gov. Reuben Fenton mansion since 1963 and the history of the mansion itself has an interesting history.

But before the Fenton Historical Society was formed as part of an effort to save the mansion and establish a museum, there was an earlier iteration of a historical society in Jamestown, and it was known as the Jamestown Historical Society. The first place to look for information about this earlier iteration is in newspaper articles of the Jamestown Evening Journal.

The Jamestown Historical Society was formed at a meeting held on the evening of Friday, March 23, 1934 at the Y.M.C.A. Jamestown City Historian Arthur Wellington Anderson presided over the start of the meeting. A constitution was adopted. The article mentioned the purpose of the organization was outlined by Anderson, and it was “to collect and preserve all information pertaining to the history of Jamestown and adjacent territory, to locate and list all objects of historical interest, and to provide the public with interesting, education and cultural material with which the local history of Jamestown abounds.”

The following officers were elected for a term of three years: William A. Bradshaw, Jr. (President), Mrs. Frank Merz (Vice President), Helen O. Davis (Secretary), William E. Trantum (Treasurer), and Arthur Wellington Anderson (Executive Secretary). At the close of this organizational meeting, the society was reported to have about 40 members.

Anderson is mentioned in several articles in relation to his role as both City Historian and Executive Secretary of the Society in attending meetings on history and giving presentations.

In late March 1934, an editorial by President Bradshaw appeared in the paper, representing the views of what was referred to as the Cabinet of the Jamestown Historical Society. In it, they urged the Board of Education to preserve and maintain the 67-year-old clock used at the high school and place it on the new high school. The present Jamestown High School finished construction on November 15, 1935.

In May 1934, among the first activities of the society were to give tours of historic sites in downtown Jamestown. Teachers and students were encouraged to attend. The same month, they also announced their first public exhibit, which was located at the Abrahamson-Bigelow store. See the article on the right for the full story.

In August 1934, the New York State Historical Association held a four-day convention at the Amphitheater at Chautauqua. Anderson was among those giving welcoming remarks, as a representative of the Society. Prior to the convention, members of the Chautauqua County Historical Society (in which Anderson was also involved) and Jamestown Historical Society made arrangements to entertain the delegates. The delegates arrived in Jamestown and toured the James Prendergast Library. Anderson spoke on the history of Jamestown. After additional events throughout the day, a historical tour of Chautauqua County was given the following morning.

On May 28, 1935, the Society hosted a “Judge Foote Day” to honor Judge Elial Todd Foote. A program was held at Love School. Alexander C. Flick, State Historian, was guest speaker. Mayor Leon Roberts gave an address and Anderson gave a presentation on the life of Judge Foote, prior to Mr. Flick’s speech.
Flick was noted as saying “Preservation of historical sources is important. It is also well to collect and save the history of our own day. The people of today will be the ancestors of generations years from now. By preserving our own history our descendants can get a clear and more intact picture of us than if they have to dig for the information themselves.”

In January 1936, it was reported that the Society published a booklet on the Prendergast family entitled The Story of A Pioneer Family and it was written by Anderson.

After this, there is no further mention of the Jamestown Historical Society. In 1944, a “10 Years Ago” article mentioned the election of the society’s officers ten years prior in 1934. Also, when Mayor Leon Roberts was seeking reelection in 1935, the Society was among his memberships. Once again, when he was running in 1937, the Society was among his memberships, although I have found no other mention of the historical society after September 1937. Mayor Roberts won both of those elections.

It would be for almost 25 years before the Fenton Historical Society had its beginnings when a group of citizens came together to preserve the historical Gov. Reuben Fenton Mansion.

Still, the mystery remains regarding what happened to the Jamestown Historical Society, and why it faded from history.

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