Vets Finding Vets: Documentation at the Armory Pt. 1

Although there are a couple of loose ends to tie up with the documentation of National Guard Enlistments Project at the Jamestown Armory, I have decided to use this opportunity to expand on the overview that I included in the Annual Report.

The Armory Project began when member Joan Lindquist, former resident and author, asked if we had a photo of the Governor’s son, Reuben Earle, in his Fenton Guard uniform for an upcoming story she was writing for the Gazette. We did not, and after contacting the Armory, the offer to look for ourselves was made in the spring of 2020 by SSG James Weaver. He took great pride in showing us what they had while adding that their limited staff wouldn’t have time to search for us. Once he showed us the old wooden cabinet in the basement and gave permission to scan scrapbooks and photos, and document the old enlistments as well, we were over the moon. Sadly, a photo of “Earle” never materialized, but we can console ourselves with other intriguing connections. We still have hope of spotting him in group photos that are unidentified but clear enough to verify that it is him.

I should stop here to point out that the Fenton Guards were mustered into service on August 25, 1875, and named themselves Fenton Guards out of respect for Ex-Gov. Fenton. Albert Gilbert, Fenton Guard officer, and married to Reuben and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, Jeannette Fenton Hegeman, was possibly the source of this proposition.

Muddling through the many pages of correspondence, and covering so many categories, had its rewards. I had at first thought the reward was finding enlistments mixed in with so many other documents in those old acid filled boxes, complete with rusted paperclips and hardened rubber bands, now stuck like glue to the items they were holding. Happily, that was only one of the rewards.

One puzzle from Reuben Earle Fenton’s correspondence in the Fenton archives was a thank you from the Captain of the Fenton Guards extending appreciation for the gift of the “Metal cabinet for the storage of firearms”. I mentioned the cabinet to the SSG who did search around for it, but there are many cabinets it could have been, so that seemed to be something we might never resolve.

Weeks later, another correspondence appeared, this time in the many Armory documents, and was a “sloppy copy” of a letter sent to Jeannette Gilbert’s son, who was the Executor of her estate. The letter thanked the family for $500, which had been given in hopes that a plaque in honor of Capt. Albert Gilbert and his many years of devoted service to the Fenton Guards could be placed somewhere near the entrance of the Armory. The Captain relayed that they were most grateful for the gift and suggestion, and they had decided to make a new flag pole area, and a plaque to honor Capt. Gilbert would be displayed there. When SSG Weaver had some time, he went on a search for the plaque, starting outside and continuing inside. Since the Armory it would have been displayed at was the prior one in Brooklyn Square, he knew it may even be in storage, but continued to look as he had time. At one point he messaged me that instead of the plaque, he might have found the firearm storage cabinet.

Indeed, it was found. The low key description was apparently intentional, but in reality is anything but low key. It is clearly a safe, just the right size for pistols, not the rifles we were envisioning. Those of you who have kept up with the saga of the safe and its origins as a Fenton Metallic Company piece, can appreciate the excitement we feel. Although Earle had resigned his commission two years before, this was a Christmas gift, dated Dec. 25, 1894, just prior to traveling abroad with his wife and his untimely death due to a fever he succumbed to in Naples, Italy, on March 25, 1895.

Good News! The Fenton Metallic pistol safe has been loaned for a two year period, and thanks to four muscled Guardsmen, the safe arrived on Saturday, January 29th, and now resides temporarily as part of the Jamestown Furniture Exhibit.

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