Youngest Of Five

Fenton Celebrates Reuben’s 200th Birthday

Right, Noah Goodling, Fenton History Center executive director, discussing Reuben Fenton’s 200th birthday, which was on the Fourth of July. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Whether Chautauqua County and Jamestown residents realized it or not, when they attended parades and firework displays on the Fourth of July they not only were celebrating Independence Day, but also Reuben Fenton’s 200th birthday.

On Wednesday, the Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture Series featured information about Fenton and events that took place in Chautauqua County on the Fourth of July.

Noah Goodling, Fenton executive director, said Fenton was born in the town of Carroll, the youngest of five children to George and Elsie who settled in Chautauqua County in 1808. Goodling said Reuben at the age of 19 studied law for one year, but didn’t become a lawyer. Instead, Fenton took control of his father’s general store, with one of his brothers, and became a businessman. During this time, Fenton also started to purchase land and clearing the timber. Fenton’s timber business was very successful.

At the age of 23, Goodling said Fenton got involved in politics by running to be the supervisor of the town of Carroll, which is a position he won and held for the next eight years. In 1852, Fenton set his sights on a national position and was elected to Congress. Fenton was a registered Democrat at the time.

During the 1850s, slavery started to be the largest political issue in the country and Fenton left the Democrat party because he was an abolitionist who was opposed to slavery. In 1854, Fenton ran for re-election with no party affiliation and lost. In 1856, however, now as a registered member of the newly formed Republican Party, Fenton again ran for Congress and was victorious.

Goodling said Fenton continued to be a member of Congress until 1864 when he ran for governor of New York. Fenton won the gubernatorial race twice and was governor for four years. During his tenure, Fenton advocated for veteran rights and eliminating slavery.

In 1868, Fenton was considered a candidate to be vice president, but didn’t win. Instead, Fenton was elected to the U.S. Senate, a position he held until 1875.

After his time in national politics, Fenton returned to Jamestown where he was the director and president of the First National Bank in Jamestown. He died Aug. 25, 1885.

During the presentation. Norman Carlson, Fenton History Center collections manager, gave a presentation about interesting events that happened in Chautauqua County on the Fourth of July. He said 367 Revolutionary War veterans are buried in the county. He added the first steamboat launched in 1828. In 1851, the Dunkirk railroad opened.

In 1861, there was a very subtle celebration with the Civil War having just started a few months earlier. The story was different in 1865, however, following the end of the war. He said the parade was attended by 4,000 to 5,000 people, according to historical accounts. He said even more people attended evening performances in Jamestown, which at the time was a village with a population of around 3,500 people.

In other business, Goodling announced Fenton officials will be starting a social media campaign that will feature a “Flat Reuben,” which is a life size cutout of the former governor. He said in a week the cutout will start to be placed in different businesses and places in Jamestown. He said people that take a selfie with Flat Reuben and post it to Facebook will be eligible to win prizes.

Goodling also said there is a new exhibit at the Fenton History Center, located at 67 Washington St. The new exhibit features 200 stories about the Fenton Mansion. He said there is also a scavenger hunt attached to the new exhibit, with the chance for participants to win prizes.

The Fenton History Center staff’s float won first prize in the Mayville Fourth of July parade, Goodling said.


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