This article is part of an ongoing series that looks at the history of the Fenton History Center, and how it has grown throughout the decades to keep up with the changing city around it.
The second half of the 1970s was a turbulent time in U.S. history, with inflation and unemployment increasing, the misery index heading toward an all-time high, and faith in the government flagging after Vietnam and Watergate. Despite all of this, however, the Fenton History Center continued to see a period of prosperous growth thanks in part to the dedication of its volunteers as well as the programming that was scheduled by the organization.
Beginning in mid-1976, Jamestown was the site of an architectural survey that was conducted by graduate students from Cornell University. The survey, which examined architecture throughout Chautauqua County, was brought to Jamestown because of the historical significance of area buildings. The researchers used the Fenton Mansion as their headquarters during the period of time that they worked in Jamestown. The historical society also began collaborating with the Department of Development, creating events that included walking tours of historical buildings in town, specifically the "Old Southside" area which included the Fenton Mansion, both Hall homes, the Porter Sheldon and homes from the Broadhead, Maddox, Grandin and Vandergrift families.
Throughout the late 1970s, the Fenton History Center also continued to expand several programs, some of which are no longer in existence. The organization's junior historian program, which brought in local students to assist with projects and events, continued to blossom, and the center also began looking to bring in musical performances.
In an effort to expand their collections, the late 1970s saw a time of inventory building for the center, including a call for period clothing from the first half of the 1900s, items to fill their historical kitchen exhibit and homespun pieces such as blankets.
According to a newsletter from October 1977, summers at the center continued to be a busy time, filled with tourists.
"More than once we had traffic jams in the office as people were making their way through from one part of the museum to another," the newsletter read. "Most of them stop for a minute or two to tell us how much they have enjoyed their tour through the museum and, more important, to tell us how interesting and how good the museum is."
By October 1978, the Fenton History Center had purchased the former Hall property, located at 81 Forest Ave. This was considered a giant step for the organization, and is something that has recently come to fruition. Nearly 35 years after the acquisition of the Hall property, the Fenton History Center has transformed it into the library and storage center for artifacts, books and manuscripts that it envisioned in the late 1970s. Other ideas for the property that were presented included a large exhibit depicting the industrial development of Jamestown, a Jamestown sports hall of fame, a space for the education program or more exhibit space for the history of education in Chautauqua County.
That same year, the New York state Council on the Arts expressed their pleasure regarding the growth and expansion that had taken place at the center. Comparing the end of the decade to the beginning of the decade, the Fenton History Center saw skyrocketing growth in both their collections, as well as the number of visitors coming through the doors. In 1971, more than 2,700 visitors came to the center, a record number at the time. By contrast, in 1979, more than 3,000 visitors signed the guest register between June and September alone. This was in part due to a lengthy list of events that the center held that year, including an ice cream social to celebrate Gov. Fenton's 160th birthday, which was attended by more than 500 individuals.
The 1970s ended on a high note for the Fenton History Center, with attendance at an all-time high, a number of new and improved programs, and an ever-expanding collection.
For more information about the Fenton History Center, located at 67 Washington St., visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org or call 664-6256.