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.
Following the economically unstable and politically charged 1970s, the 1980s began to see a sense of stability return to the United States. Ronald Reagan was elected as president in 1980 and worked to restore economic health through supply-side economics. By the middle of 1983, unemployment had fallen from 11 percent in 1982 to 8.2 percent, GDP growth was at 3.3 percent, and inflation was below 5 percent.
In Jamestown, however, the Fenton Historical Society saw a different side of the story. In February 1981, then-president Helen Ebersole issued a call for help to the community. With three months left in the fiscal year, the organization was facing an operating deficit of $3,000 due to inflationary trends devaluing the dollars earned by membership subscriptions and private donations. Despite this fact, however, the Fenton Historical Society continued to press forward.
Picture from left are Kristie Voty and Greg Winter from Chautauqua Signs; Linda Swanson, Sheldon Foundation executive director; Michael Rohlin, Fenton History Center board of trustees president; Larry Kestner, Work Experience Program instructor; Ashley Neuman, Michael Euscher and Argelis Maria, WEP participants; Joni Blackman, Fenton History Center director.
By mid-1981, the society had begun working on new acquisitions, including the opening of a pharmacy exhibit in the mansion, which has since closed. Additionally, the decision was made by the curatorial board to establish a new room dedicated to Chautauqua Lake after the original room was dismantled to make room for an expansion of the library. 1981 also saw the Walnut Grove Festival, which was sponsored by the Fenton Historical Society, take place at St. James School. According to a flyer from the festival, it played host to Italian folk dancers, Negro spirituals, Greek folk dancers, Irish folk songs, Swedish folk dancers, historical exhibits and more.
Between 1982-83, the organization saw a great period of growth. New by-laws were created, a full-time receptionist was hired and an auxiliary organization was created - the Fenton Guild. A long-range planning committee was also created to better serve the needs of the organization, as well.
1984 marked the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Fenton Historical Society, as well as the unveiling of the newly revamped Chautauqua Lake exhibit. In addition to these milestones, the organization created a dedicated account with the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. Income from the account went entirely to the Society, something to help stave off deficits like the Fenton Historical Society had seen at the start of the decade.
Now, nearly 30 years after those milestones, the Fenton History Center is still going strong, recently creating new signage for the properties at the Fenton Mansion and the Hall House with the help of the Sheldon Foundation. The new signs replaced 18-year-old wooden signs that had passed their prime, and participants from the BOCES Work Experience programs aided with the landscaping around the sign at the Hall House property.
"The two buildings, the Fenton Mansion and the Hall House Research Center building, are very different in appearance, although all part of the Fenton History Center," said Joni Blackman, director. "We receive many guests from out of the area and the two different style buildings confused our patrons. In addition, the (Sheldon) Foundation provided funds to install smaller signs by both buildings that designate their purposes. The united signage is helping clear up the confusion and replaces the old signs with our current brand."
For more information about the Fenton History Center, located at 67 Washington St., visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org or call 664-6256.