Full Restoration Planned For Former Fenton Home
FREWSBURG — A historic property in Frewsburg nearly leveled in a fire this past spring is set to be restored.
Located at 83 W. Main St., the former Fenton home is in the process of being sold to Larry Wilcox. The property is noted for being where Reuben Fenton — the former governor of New York — lived before moving to the Fenton Mansion in Jamestown.
Used as apartments, the structure was heavily damaged in a fire that broke out May 9 that also claimed the life of a man living there. Due to the amount of damage, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office was unable to determine the cause of the blaze.
Wilcox said last week he is in the process of closing the sale. Once complete, he plans to eventually renovate the structure that will include four apartments inside.
“We’re going to renovate it from top to bottom,” he said. “I tend to put in more money than I should sometimes.”
Wilcox said the opportunity to purchase the property presented itself after the fire.
“We looked at the damage to the property and thought it was something that could be renovated,” Wilcox said. “We made an offer and he thought about it and came back and said that he would sell it.”
Since 1998, a historical marker declaring the residence as the former Fenton home has sat in front of the 83 W. Main St. building. It notes how long Fenton served as Carroll town supervisor; as a member of Congress in both the House of Representatives and Senate; and as governor.
Barbara Cessna, Carroll town historian and Fenton Historical Society research assistant, said Fenton purchased the land from John Frew, his future father-in-law, after he married his daughter Jane in 1840, starting construction of the house in 1839. Cessna said Fenton had made money from helping his father’s general store be successful and from buying property to harvest the timber and then selling the land to people as farmsteads.
Cessna added that Fenton’s first wife died in 1842, but he married again in 1844 to Elizabeth Scudder and continued to live in the Frewsburg home until he was elected governor in 1864.
Cessna said Fenton sold the Frewsburg home after he became governor and started construction of the Fenton Mansion in Jamestown in 1863.
While there have been some obstacles in purchasing the historic structure, Wilcox said Carroll town officials have been helpful and equally as committed to preserving the structure.
“It is a part of our local history,” he said. “I put a value on that and I want to see the building saved because of that.”
He already has had an engineer inspect the damage to the property to determine its stability. “We’re going to go in and stabilize it once the transaction closes,” he said.
Without his plan to renovate the former Fenton home, he said, the building was likely going to be torn down.
“It’s going to be done right and it’s going to look really nice,” Wilcox said. “There’s a sense of satisfaction when you take a building like that and restore it. There’s an even greater sense of satisfaction when you take a building with that historical significance and save it for the community.”
Preservation is nothing new to Wilcox, who also is nearing the completion of renovating a brick house in Cassadaga built in 1860.
The apartments he renovates offer tenants a unique experience.
“When I do these properties, I like to do something special in there that you don’t usually see in another apartment,” he said.
Wilcox also believes in maintaining positive relationships with his tenants. “I tend not to have problems with tenants because I take care of them,” he said.
Members of the Carroll Town Board this month discussed the property and its purchase. Town Supervisor Russell Payne noted Wilcox’s effort to have the property restored.
“He’s willing and ready to go ahead with the project,” Payne said at a Town Board meeting in June, later adding, “I think it will be a nice project downtown for everybody.”
He added, “He does good work — I’ve seen his work. Larry is a good man, very friendly, very outgoing. He wants to be very open with the town about what he wants to do.”