Congressman, Senator, Governor, “Soldiers’ Friend” Reuben Fenton Turns 200

Brady-Handy Photo Collection-Library of Congress

One of the most well-known political figures to emerge from our corner of New York State was Reuben E. Fenton, who was born 200 years this July 4 (2019) in the Town of Carroll.

To celebrate his 200th birthday, here’s information on the former congressman, governor and state senator, as presented by city of Jamestown Historian B. Dolores Thompson to the County Historical Society in April 1995.

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Gov. Reuben E. Fenton, The Fenton Mansion, and the Fenton Historical Society”

It is appropriate to begin my remarks today with a brief biography of Gov. Reuben E. Fenton. He was born July 4, 1819 near Frewsburg, NY.

He attended local schools as a youth and continued his higher education at schools in Fredonia, NY and in Ohio. He left school to return to Frewsburg to assist his father with the family business which was failing. His entrepreneurial skills and business acumen were successful in turning the business into a successful enterprise, earning the Governor a fortune.

He began his political career in 1846 when he was elected to the County Board of Supervisors at the age of 27. He remained on the Board until his election to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1852.  In Washington, he became acquainted with others who were not satisfied with the existing political parties and, in association with them, he became a founding member of the present day Republican Party. He was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Reuben E. Fenton

Reuben E. Fenton, Chautauqua County native and eventual Congressman, U.S. Senator and Governor of New York State

As a national political move, Gov. Fenton ran for Governor of New York State in 1864, was elected, and served two two-year terms in that office, from 1865 to 1869. He was then elected to the U. S. Senate where he served until 1875, retiring to spend time with his family at their recently constructed mansion in Jamestown. In 1878, he was appointed by Pres. Hayes to the U. S. Monetary Commission, traveling to Europe for numerous conferences.

He returned to private life, became a director and then president of the First National Bank. He died at his desk at the bank on August 25, 1885, aged 66 years.

Gov. Fenton was married twice. His first wife, Jane Frew of the Frew family of Frewsburg, died at the age of 21 in childbirth. Their daughter, Jane, was raised by her grandparents and in later life moved west. Fenton descendants have apparently lost contact with any descendants from that first marriage. Gov. Fenton married again several years later Elizabeth Scudder. They had three children: Josephine, who married Frank Gifford, a local banker; Jeannette, who was married first to Niven Hegeman of New York City and then to Albert Gilbert, a local entrepreneur; Reuben Earle, who was active in business enterprises in the community.

Gov. Fenton made his fortune early in life in the lumbering business in Frewsburg and maintained his home there for many years. In 1863, he commissioned Aaron Hall, a well-known local architect, to design and construct the Italian Villa style building (with Tuscan Tower) we now call the Fenton Mansion, situated atop a small hill. For many years the property was known as Walnut Grove. Following the Governor’s death, his widow, Elizabeth, lived in the house until her death in 1901. During the years the family lived in the Mansion, many prominent persons were visitors and even house guests. The Governor was still a political figure of influence and ‘among his visitors were Horace Greeley, Generals Sherman and Sheridan (of the Civil War), and President McKinley. Mrs. Fenton and both daughters were strong supporters of the suffrage movement and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were house guests during their visits to the area.

The Mansion served as the site for the reception of Josephine and her bridegroom, Frank Gifford, following their marriage. The Fenton archives contain a detailed account of the decorations of the drawing room and the lady guests’ attire. It would have been one of THE social events of the year, attended by every prominent person in Jamestown.

The Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October
18, 1972, due to its historical and architectural significance.

Following Elizabeth Scudder Fenton’s death, the Mansion became the property of the daughters, Josephine and Jeannette. During the ensuing years, records indicate there was a live-in caretaker at least part of that time. The daughters also owned the surrounding land and a second home in which Jeannette and Albert Gilbert lived. A buyer for the property was not readily available.

In 1912, the Chautauqua County Veterans’ Union, a consortium of the county’s veterans organizations, approached the Chautauqua County Board of Supervisors. They proposed that the county purchase the property and establish a Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park, with the building being used as museums for war relics and meetings of various groups. The proposal was quite fitting, as the Governor had acquired the nickname “The Soldiers’ Friend” during the Civil War due to the many kindnesses and assistance he gave to the soldiers and their families. The proposal was discussed, but no concrete action was ever taken by the Supervisors.

George Lindstrom, a Jamestown member of the Board of Supervisors, pursued the idea even though he had moved from the area and relocated in Lakewood, Ohio. In 1915, he began writing to the City of Jamestown and gained the support of most of the city’s organizations and of most of the prominent citizens. Finally, the Park and planning Commission sent a report, dated January 6, 1919, to the Common Council of Jamestown recommending the purchase of the property known as Walnut Grove as a memorial park to soldiers and sailors. The report was signed by Mayor Samuel A. Carlson; Charles M. Dow, president of the National Chautauqua County Bank and a member of the New York State Parks Commission; Frederick P. Hall, editor of the Jamestown Evening Journal; Mrs. G. A. Haynes; Rovillus R. Rogers, former superintendent of the Jamestown Public Schools; Robert K. Beech, manager and publisher of the Jamestown Morning Post; and Edgar P. Putnam.

The Common Council accepted the report and voted to purchase the property pending the vote by city residents on a bond resolution to be held at a special election February 3, 1919. The bond resolution was prepared by the Corporation Counsel, Robert H. Jackson, who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937.

The bond resolution was approved by the citizens and on March 11, 1919 the city purchased the property for $35,000, $25,000 for the Fenton Mansion and $10,000 for the Gilbert house and property, all of which totaled 3.37 acres. The bond was repaid at the rate of $3,500 for the next ten years. (There is nothing said about interest on the bond.)

During the next years, many veterans organizations shared the rooms of the Mansion. The Jamestown Chapter, DAR also occupied a room even though there was considerable controversy over their right to be in the building. The city stored spring-flowering bulbs in the basement for many summers in the space now occupied by the Italian Room. The Grand Army of the Republic had its official national headquarters on the second floor. Cora Gillis was secretary for many years and when the last Union veteran died, Albert Woolson of Duluth, aged 109 years, all the records were sent to Washington, D. C. to the National Archives. Woolson died August 2, 1956.

As time went on, the veterans organizations decided to leave the Mansion and acquire a building of their own, leaving room for other organizations. The local Selective Service had its offices in the building during the Second World War and later. In 1962, as plans were completed for the Washington Street Bridge and changes were made, the City Health Department, which had been occupying the second floor of the Public Market, moved into the entire first floor of the Mansion. At this time, also, it became apparent that the Mansion needed many repairs and the cost of its upkeep was becoming a burden to the city. This plus the fact that the road between, the Washington Street Bridge and Foote Avenue was cutting through the front lawn of the Mansion prompted a number of persons to call for the demolition of the Fenton Mansion. Equally vocal were many citizens who felt that the mansion should be saved and that another purpose could be found for the nearly one hundred year old structure. Mayor William D. Whitehead appointed a committee to assess a new use for the Mansion. Serving with Stanley A. Weeks, Chairman, were: Michael Hjalmarson, Ernest D. Leet, John P. Sinclair, Warren P. Howard, Edgar Olson, Mary W. Torrance, Helen G. McMahon, Arthur A. Wellman, Ernest J. Muzzy, and Jennie Vimmerstedt. Their report is dated August 7, 1962. It called for the establishment of a museum and library to house the artifacts, archival records, and genealogical records of Jamestown and its citizens. It also strongly recommended that a historical society be formed to carry out the work of the museum and library, which were to be housed in the Fenton Mansion.

The report was accepted and adopted, and plans were soon underway to implement the report. The Fenton Historical Society became official on May 22, 1963 with the adoption of a constitution, by-laws, and the election of offices. The Society was granted a charter as an educational institution on May 22, 1964 by the New York State Board of Regents. In addition to the above named committee members, early officers, directors, and committee workers included John D. Crissey, DeForest W. Peterson, Helena Stonehouse, William R. Reynolds, Jr., C. Malcolm Nichols, Daniel F. Lincoln, Harry Rose, Harry Burgeson, Harry Stone, Sheldon Myregaard, Sybil M. McFadden, and Mayor Ingham. Edna Ingham was appointed the genealogist.

The museum and library formally opened in July 1967. Many artifacts had been acquired and cataloged and exhibits of them begun. The library had acquired old newspapers collections,  journals, ledgers, and other archival materials from the Prendergast Library. The contract between the Historical Society and the City of Jamestown stipulated that the city would maintain the grounds and the building, and provide all utilities and a custodian. The Society would pay no rent and would be responsible for all exhibits, rooms, and materials collected. The Historical Society has assumed responsibility for some of the original stipulations.

I now invite you to tour the Mansion.

– B. Dolores Thompson
April 1995

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Note: In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Governor Reuben Fenton’s birth, the Fenton History Center will present a special July Brown Bag Talk on Wednesday, July 12. Norm Carlson, Collections Manager and Noah Goodling, Executive Director, will present on the history of 4th of July celebrations in Jamestown, NY. Brown Bag Talks are free and open to the public. Donations are appreciated. Talks begin at 12:00 in the dining room of the Fenton History Center.

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County Historical Society Annual Meeting to Feature Local History Author

WESTFIELD, NY – The Chautauqua County Historical Society (CCHS) will hold its 2019 annual meeting on Saturday, April 27 at the Lakeshore Assembly of God (252 E Main St, Westfield NY).

Jacob Ludes

The annual meeting gives CCHS members an opportunity to learn more about some of the organization’s highlights over the past year. In addition, the event will also feature a lunch and a lecture. This year’s featured speaker will be author and Chautauqua County native Jacob Ludes, III, who will discuss his recent book, “A Thread in the Fabric: The Chautauqua-Erie Region to 1865” (published in 2017).

Ludes’s book reveals the fabric of American history by tracing a single thread in the fabric – the history of the Chautauqua-Erie Region of Western New York, which Ludes presents as a microhistory of the whole of the American past. The volume tells the American story through a focus on the Chautauqua-Erie Region from the arrival of the first people 13,000 years ago. It then proceeds through the period of colonial and American settlement and examines the conflict of French, British, and colonial interests in the region, The war for independence, Western New York as part of the “first frontier” of the United States, the War of 1812, the impact of the Erie Canal,the period of growth that took place from the 1820s up to the Civil War.

For his presentation on April 27 Ludes will highlight portions of his book that specifically relate to Chautauqua County history. In addition, he’ll spend some offering details on the research he undertook in order to complete the book.

“What I will focus on, after briefly describing my research, is ‘The Fox Sisters and the Rise of American Spiritualism.  Maggie and Kate Fox have a deep and abiding connection to Chautauqua County via Lily Dale,” Ludes explains.

Ludes was born in Dunkirk and educated in its public schools. He received his A.B. and M.A. degrees from SUNY Fredonia in history.  He was also a Kettering Foundation Fellow at the University of New Hampshire and received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree honoris causa from Endicott College.

Upon graduation, he began his teaching career at Westfield Academy. In 1973 he was one of four recipients of New York State’s Outstanding Young Educator Award. While in Chautauqua County he also taught at Jamestown Community College and at SUNY Fredonia. Ludes became the principal at Connecticut’s largest high school in 1978 and continued working in education in Connecticut throughout the 80s and 90s. From 1999 to 2011, Ludes was the President/CEO of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

A Thread in the Fabric is Ludes’s first book. He is currently working on a one volume collection of short biographies of western New Yorkers who had an impact on our national history. The working title is Larger Lives.

Ludes and his wife Elaine have two adult children and four grandchildren. They reside north of Boston.

As noted, there will also be a business meeting along with a luncheon prior to the presentation. The business portion of the historical society’s annual meeting will begin at 11:30 a.m. when CCHS President Cristie Herbst provides the organization’s annual report. In addition, Museum Curator John Paul Wolfe will provide an update on CCHS’s exhibits and collections. Several other trustees will also be on hand to offer updates as well.

Following the business portion of the meeting, a luncheon will be provided for anyone who made prior reservations. The meal will begin shortly after noon and will feature a chicken meal from Parkview Café catering in Westfield, along with beverages and desert. The cost is $15 per person with reservations due by Friday, April 19. Payment can be made the day of the event.

No reservations are required for those only attending the meeting and/or lecture and who do not wish to eat lunch. Reservation for the luncheon can be made by calling (716) 326-2977, or by emailing cchs@mcclurgmuseum.org.

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Program to Focus on Chautauqua Lake’s First White Settler

A historical marker notes the spot on South Erie St., Mayville where Alexander McIntyre built his stockade. (Source: New York State Museum Website)

MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County has had its fair share of eccentric and colorful characters throughout its long history. The first of these notable individuals was arguably Dr. Alexander McIntyre, who became Chautauqua Lake’s first white settler in the spring of 1804.

On Wednesday evening, Sept. 19, Chautauqua County Historical Society trustee and historian Jack Ericson will present “The Eccentric Life of Early Pioneer Alexander McIntyre: Fact and Fiction” and outline the details of McIntyre’s colorful biography.

It is said that McIntyre built the first log cabin near the shores of Chautauqua Lake on what is today South Erie St. in Mayville. He erected a stockade around the cabin and called it “Fort Debbie” after his wife. Local lore says he built it to protect his so-called wife from her estranged husband, who lived in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

McIntyre also claimed that he had been captured by and resided with Indians many years, acquiring their habits, and said he learned the healing art from them. After living in the Mayville area, he spent his final years in Westfield where it is said he erected several cabins and bathhouses for people to take advantage of the healing powers of the local water.

The public is invited to learn more about McIntyre’s fascinating and colorful life during Ericson’s presentation, which is taking place inside the Community Building at Lakeside Park in Mayville. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

There is no cost to attend. Because light food and refreshments will be served, RSVPs are appreciated but not required. To RSVP, please call (716) 326-2977.

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Chautauqua County: A Place Fit for a President

Madison Schroeder, portraying former Westfield resident Grace Bedell, poses with Fritz Klein, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, at the McClurg Museum in Westfield. The 2011 reenactment was part of the National Park Service’s program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of President-elect Lincoln’s inaugural trip to Washington, D.C. (Photo by Niles Dening)

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Timelines, the Chautauqua County Historical Society’s quarterly newsletter. All members of the historical society receive the news letter as part of their annual $20 membership fee. You can sign up for a membership at the homepage of our website, McClurgMuseum.org.

Since its founding in 1811, Chautauqua County has had an impressive history when it comes to U. S. Presidents who’ve paid us a visit. From what we can tell, a total of ten presidents visited various places in Chautauqua County – either while in office or after leaving office. Additionally, four others came to the county prior to becoming commander-in-chief.

One of the primary reasons why our Commander in Chief would come to our county is Chautauqua Institution – which has served as a national and international platform for the sharing of ideas since 1874. In addition, the cities of Jamestown and Dunkirk have also been honored with a visit from sitting presidents. And as many of us know, the most famous visit of them all took place in Westfield.

Millard Fillmore

The first sitting U.S. President to actually visit Chautauqua County was President Millard Fillmore on May 15, 1851. Fillmore was one of more than a dozen prominent officials who arrived in Dunkirk via the New York and Erie Railroad. President Fillmore’s visit was part of a colossal celebration of the completion of the rail-line, which stretched 445.5 miles from New York City to Dunkirk Harbor.  At the time it was the longest line in the world.

Abraham Lincoln is not only considered one of America’s greatest presidents, but also one of the most identifiable, thanks in part to his beard. It’s fascinating to consider, then, that the roots of his iconic facial hair can be traced to Chautauqua County.

On October 15, 1860, 11 year-old Grace Bedell wrote a letter to the Republican presidential candidate, urging him to grow a beard to improve his appearance. Lincoln responded to Grace in a letter, making no promises. However, within a month he grew a full beard, which he wore for most of the remainder of his life.

After winning the election and during his inaugural train ride from Chicago to Washington, President-elect Lincoln made an appearance in Westfield on Feb. 16, 1861. Not only did he address a large crowd that had assembled, but he also made a point to seek out Bedell in order to meet her and give her a kiss on the check.  Today, a statue depicting the meeting is located in the center of the village.

Lincoln’s inauguration train also made stops in Dunkirk and Silver Creek.  And Following President Lincoln’s assassination, his funeral train passed through Chautauqua County on April 27, 1865.

Ulysses S. Grant

President Ulysses S. Grant came to Jamestown and the Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 14 and 15, 1875. Grant arrived in Jamestown on Aug. 14 and had lunch in the home of local merchant Alonzo Kent. Today the home is better known as Robert H. Jackson Center.

Following lunch, President Grant headed to Chautauqua Institution via the 55-foot long steamer Josie Belle. He would be a guest of the Chautauqua Assembly co-funder John Heyl Vincent – who had served as pastor of Grant’s church in Illinois.

A Comprehensive Account of President Ulysses S. Grant’s Visit to Chautauqua County, has been recorded by noted author and former historical society trustee Kathleen Crocker, and can be found at the Jackson Center.

The next presidential visit to Chautauqua Institution wouldn’t take place until Aug. 19, 1892. That’s when Rutherford B. Hayes came to Chautauqua for Grange Day. His appearance took place after he left office.

President Grover Cleveland also spent time on Chautauqua Lake – but he avoided the Institution. The exact date isn’t given, but it’s believed he stayed at Chautauqua Point as part of a fishing trip and its said he was able to reel in the famous musky of Chautauqua Lake.

William Taft

William Taft came to Chautauqua County on several occasions – three times prior to being elected president. His first two visits were at the Institution and his third visit was to Dunkirk and Westfield while campaigning for the presidency. His final visit came while he was in office – speaking in Jamestown on Oct. 26, 1912.

Perhaps no president spent more time in Chautauqua County than Theodore Roosevelt, who came on several occasions while serving as Governor of New York, again as President, and even after leaving office.

Roosevelt’s first appearance in the county was on Nov. 7, 1898 while running for Governor. He spoke in both Jamestown and Lakewood. While campaigning as vice president, Roosevelt made one of his most publicized appearances, coming to Jamestown on Nov. 1, 1900 and speaking to a huge crowd in the city.  In 1905, Roosevelt came to the county as President. It was his fourth and final appearance at Chautauqua and he spoke in the Amphitheater on the subject of the merging American middle class.

President Roosevelt thought highly of the Institution. He is quoted as saying Chautauqua Institution is the most American thing in America.

President Roosevelt at Chautauqua Institution in 1936

Franklin D. Roosevelt also came to the Chautauqua Institution on several occasions prior to becoming commander-in-chief. But his most memorable appearance was as President, when he came to Chautauqua during his reelection campaign on Aug. 14, 1936 and delivered his famous “I Hate War” speech.

Gerald Ford never spent time in Chautauqua County while in office, but he did come to the area before becoming president and again after leaving office. Ford first came Chautauqua Institution on July 30, 1965 when he was then a congressman from Michigan. Nineteen years later, on Aug. 10, 1984, Ford came to the Jamestown airport for a Jill Emery fundraiser. By this time he had already served as president and was no longer in office.

Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas and also a candidate for president when he came to Chautauqua County. He and running mate Al Gore appeared at Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 23, 1992. Chautauqua must have proved inspiring for Clinton, He returned while serving as President on Oct. 3, 1996 to prepare for a campaign debate against Republican challenger Bob Dole.

Besides the ten men listed above, four others also appeared in the county prior to being elected President of the United States. They were James Garfield (Chautauqua Institution – Aug. 7, 1880); William McKinley (Chautauqua Institution – Aug. 23, 1895); Herbert Hoover (Jamestown – May 25, 1922); and Richard Nixon (Jamestown – Oct. 11, 1952 and May 31, 1966).

It should be noted that at one point, there was a belief that George Washington himself also set foot in what is today Chautauqua County, when he was serving as a British officer during the French and Indian War. The legend said that he had spent the night at Findley Lake. However, that myth has since been proven incorrect. In fact, the closest Washington ever came to our area was on December 11, 1753 when he arrived at Fort Le Boeuf on French Creek, in what is today Waterford, Pa – an estimated 10 miles away from the southwest corner of our county.

Special thanks to the Fenton Historical Center’s Norman Carlson, Chautauqua historian Jon Schmitz and Hanover historian Vince Martonis for providing information for this article. Additional information was provided by Helen McMahon’s book, “Chautauqua County: A History,” available in most local public libraries.

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Armistice Day Centennial, Return of Annual Picnic Highlight 2018 CCHS Program Schedule

The McClurg Museum in Moore Park, Westfield is the home of the Chautauqua County Historical Society.

WESTFIELD – The Chautauqua County Historical Society’s (CCHS) programming committee has finalized its 2018 Program Schedule with several unique lectures and events planned.

Highlighting this year’s program schedule is a collaboration with local historians from across the county in November to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Other programs will focus on a pair of nationally recognized Chautauqua County artists, the return o the annual picnic with a focus on early pioneering efforts of honey, and separating fact from fiction regarding to the biography of one of the county’s earliest settlers.

CCHS will also once again present several long-standing events, including the Annual Gala and 9th NY Cavalry Encampment, the Antique Show, the Vintage Book and Paper Show, the Holiday Tea, and the annual McClurg Museum Holiday Open House.

APRIL 21: Presentation on Chautauqua County Artists Richard Sigafoos and Russell Welch

Chautauqua County has had a number of prominent artists make their mark on the world. In an effort to highlight two of those arts, CCHS has invited Writer and researcher Lori Humphreys to present “Chautauqua County Artists Richard Sigafoos and Russell Welch” during the annual meeting and luncheon on April 21.

“They Sycamores” by Richard Sigafoos

Richard Sigafoos (1908-1985) was a noted impressionist artist, muralist, illustrator and teacher primarily known for his landscapes and marine paintings. His paintings have been exhibited widely and he has received many awards including the gold, silver and bronze medals at Buffalo Society of Artists’ exhibitions. His works can be found in many public locations, as well as in many private collections in the United States and Canada.

Russell Welch (1909-1994) was a Jamestown native who started his art career painting furniture at one of the local factories. In 1971, he retired and moved to Warren, Pennsylvania, where he began painting full-time. During his career, Welch painted murals in public buildings in New York and Pennsylvania.

Humphreys is a freelance writer from Stow, New York, where she’s lived since 2011. She’s a member of the Harmony Historical Society, the Chautauqua County Historical Society, and the North Harmony 100th Anniversary Committee. She previously served on the Board of Directors for the Historical Society of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Humphreys’ freelance writing includes articles for Western New York Illustrated Heritage Magazine, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Mt. Lebanon Magazine, and the Almanac Newspaper. In addition she has worked as a writer for both the Lakeside Ledger and Chautauquan Daily.

In addition to the 1p.m. lecture by Humphreys, the day will also feature CCHS’s annual meeting (11:30 a.m.), open to all members, and a luncheon will follow at noon, open to the general public.

This year the annual meeting will take place at a new location. The Lakeshore Assembly of God (252 E Main St, Westfield NY) will host the meeting and luncheon, with food provided by Parkview Café catering.

A fee of $15 will be charged to anyone wishing to eat lunch, otherwise the annual meeting and lecture are free of charge. RSVP for the luncheon is required before April 12 by emailing cchs@mcclurgmuseum.org or call (716) 326-2977.

August 15 – Return of the CCHS Annual Picnic

After taking a year off in 2017 to accommodate the very successful Wine & Cheese pairing event at Liberty Vineyards in Sheridan, CCHS’s annual picnic will return in 2018 with a special event planned at Panama Rocks, Panama, NY.

On Wednesday Aug. 15 at 6 p.m., local beekeepers Dennis and Laura LaMonica will present “Pioneering Efforts of Honey Production in Chautauqua County” at Panama Rocks.  The LaMonica’s bring decades of beekeeping experience and will lead a presentation focusing on the early history of beekeeping and honey production in Chautauqua County.

CCHS is partnering with Panama Rocks to help promote the presentation, which will also serve as the society’s annual picnic.

The event is free and open to the public and attendees are also encouraged to bring a dish to pass. If possible, please RSVP with CCHS before Aug. 10 by calling (716) 326-2977 or emailing cchs@mcclurgmuseum.org.

September 19 – The Eccentric Life of Dr. Alexander McIntyre

A historical marker notes the spot on South Erie St., Mayville where Alexander McIntyre built his stockade. (Source: New York State Museum Website)

Chautauqua County has had its fair share of eccentric and colorful characters throughout its long history. The first of these notable individuals was arguably Dr. Alexander McIntyre, who became Mayville’s first settler in the spring of 1804.

On Wednesday evening, Sept. 19, CCHS trustee and historian Jack Ericson will present “”The Eccentric Life of Early Pioneer Alexander McIntyre: Fact and Fiction” and will outline the details of McIntyre’s colorful biography.

It is said that McIntyre built a log cabin on what is today South Erie St. in Mayville and around it erected a stockade. It’s also said he named the place “Fort Debbie” and built it to protect his so-called wife from her husband, who lived in the Meadville, Pennsylvania area. McIntyre claimed that he had been captured by and resided with Indians many years, acquiring their habits, and said he learned the healing art from them. He spent his final years in Westfield where it is said he erected several cabins and bathhouses for people to take advantage of the healing powers of the local water.

Ericson’s presentation will take place inside the Community Building at Lakeside Park in Mayville. It will begin at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

November 11 – The 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day

American “doughboys” serving in Europe during World War I

2018 will serve as the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I.

In an effort to focus on the impact the “War to End all Wars” had on the home front, Chautauqua County Historian and CCHS trustee Michelle Henry, along with Pomfret Historian Todd Langworthy, will coordinate a Special Centennial Celebration of Armistice Day on Sunday, Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

The event will feature local municipal historians sharing stories about World War I from the county’s various communities.

“Whether it is a story of home front activities, a local soldier or nurse, or wartime production, I’ll bet each of our communities has an interesting story about that time period,” Henry explain.

More details will be made available in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, the tentative time for the event is 1 to 3 p.m.

Annual Events also on Schedule

Several other CCHS-sponsored events will also take place throughout the year:

On May 5, CCHS will host the annual Westfield Vintage Book & Paper Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Eason Hall. Cost is $5 for the general public and $3 for students.

CCHS will also host its Annual Summer Gala at the historic McClurg Museum in Moore Park, Westfield on Saturday, June 9. The event is CCHS’s major annual fundraiser, with tickets costing $50 per person. It will run from 6 to 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased at the museum or from any CCHS trustee. A Civil War encampment, presented by the 9th NY Cavalry, will also take place in the park on both Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10.

The annual Westfield Antique Show, which is coordinated by the Historical Society, will take place July 21 and July 22, also at Eason Hall.

A Holiday Victorian Tea will return to the McClurg Museum on Saturday, Nov. 17. And on Sunday, Dec. 9, the historical society will present its annual Holiday Open House at the McClurg Museum.

There’s also the possibility of an additional program or special event being added to the CCHS program schedule. To stay up to date on all programs and any possible changes that may take place to the current schedule, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org.

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Reflections on the United States Entering World War I, 100 Years Later

A photo taken of Americans in Europe, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I.

Below is an article originally appearing in a Saturday insert of the Jamestown Post-Journal on April 1, 1967 on what was then the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Entering “The War to End All Wars.” The article was written by Leigh E. Burdick, who was at the time of the writing the editor of the paper, and was also a World War I veteran.

– J. Sample

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Editor’s Note – Leigh E. Burdick, then a reporter on the former Jamestown Morning Post, enlisted at 18 and went to France with the 29th Engineers, G.H.Q. His outfit helped print the Stars and Stripes in Paris, operate a base printing plant at Langres and supplied surveyors, mobile printing units and technicians to several Army crops and divisions.

Fifty years ago next Thursday, April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and her allies. World War I started and an awkward, adolescent giant, not aware of its own strength, started its march onto the world stage of international leadership and involvement.

Fifty years ago next Friday, April 7, 1917, Ira Lou Spring, a Jamestown teenager, one year out of high school, enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He was to be the first Jamestown solider to die in action in France and his memory was to be perpetuated by the American Legion post bearing his name. Thus does history mesh.

Today, after half a century, fewer than 500 men who wore khaki and olive drab; suffered wrap leggings and stiff, tight jacket collars; read their shirts for cooties; slept in French mud or marched to “Over There,” are still alive in Jamestown to remember.

We who are left of the 2,500,000-man American Expeditionary Force that left 320,710 dead on French battlefields, provide the ever-weakening physical link with the war to “Make the world safe for democracy.” It is estimated that today we occupy the same moment in “Old Soldier” history as did veterans of the Civil War at the time World War I began, for the average age of surviving WWI veterans is about 72.

The backdrop of all wars is different as man’s increase in knowledge changes the technology in pursuing them. Only the dying remains the same. This was the first evangelistic war in which the United States crossed the seas to pursue an ideal. It came before radio, television, or commercial airplane travel. Only one or two homes in a block had telephones. Travel was on mud roads in scarce automobiles, by trolley, train or boat. The phonograph was the mass media of entertainment and there were no long playing records. Sheet music and pianos popularized the ballads that are still heard on radio and television.

In World War I a great many men enlisted but even more went by draft which took farmers, factory workers, clerks and other civilians, most of whom had never handled a gun.

Little wonder that German general staff members shrugged off America’s entrance into the war in the belief that this country could not train and field an army soon enough to save England and France. But that was to provide the miracle of the war.

Take for instance men like Ira Lou Spring of Jamestown.

The United States had entered the conflict with an army of 200,000 men carrying obsolete weapons. The Army Signal Corps had 55 planes. The Navy was in better shape, but far from war footing. Then came the green civilians. On July 4, 1917, elements of the First Army paraded through Paris to the cheers and tears of the populace. The phrase “Lafayette we are here” was born. By the end of 1917 there were 180,000 American troops in France, serving under Gen. John J. Pershing and the supreme allied commander, Ferdinand Foch. They helped stem the German offensive at Cantigny and Chateau-Thierry. Then, spearheaded by U.S. Marines, they went over to the offensive at Belleau Wood on June 6, 1918, and captured the strategic square mile of forest with a casualty rate of 58 per cent. On July 18 began the big allied offensive at Soissons, to be followed by the battles of the Argonne and the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. In the interval the A.E.F. was to build up to a force of 2,500,000.

But let us recall the story of Ira Lou Spring of Jamestown.

American “doughboys” serving in Europe during World War I

He had enlisted in the 42nd Company, Fifth Regiment of Marines. He fought through Chateau-Thierry and died at Belleau Wood on June 14, 1918. By strange coincidence, Charles E. Jones, 1398 Newland Avenue, was probably the last Jamestowner to see him alive.

Mr. Jones, who served with the 306th Transportation Corps, and who had been chauffeuring for officers, was pressed into emergency service early in June to drive a truck and help transport fresh Marine troops from St. Nazaire, port of entry, to Chateau-Thierry to help the allies fill the gaping lines and prevent the Germans from covering the last 30 miles to Paris. At this time allied troops were being rushed to the front in taxicabs and every other available means of transportation. It was at this interval that Mr. Jones met Ira Lou Spring and talked about “home.” Young Spring was to be one on the heavy American casualty list who died to stop the German drive and provide the turning point in the war.

It is a strange coincidence that only a week or two ago officials of Ira Lou Spring Post should receive a photostatic copy of a letter written by young Spring to his Jamestown buddy, C. E. Wood, in September, 1917 from France. Mr. Wood, now a resident of Shaker Heights, Ohio, wrote:

“I thought perhaps, inasmuch as your post is named for him, this letter might be of interest.”

In the letter young Spring refers to his AZ high school fraternity, asked “how is school this year?” and “Is there going to be a football team?” and adds “It hardly seems as though I’d been out of old JHS a whole year.”

He closes the letter with this significant paragraph:

“Charlie, if you can ever put on enough weight and height to enlist you can’t do any more than get shot and no one seems to let that possibility worry them.”

Ira Lou Spring was buried in the Aisne-Marne Military Cemetery in France where “crosses grow, row on row.” In 1927 representatives of the local Legion post, Frederick P. Rogers, Emil Hammerstrom and Nels Olsen placed a wreath on his grave as his mother, Jamestown’s first Gold Star Mother, looked on.

Mrs. E. Walton Spring, the mother a gracious and active woman in church and local affairs, died in 1940 at the age of 73. That same year the boy’s father went to Mt. Kisco to live with a daughter, Mrs. T. C. Sloson, but not before the Legion post held a testimonial dinner in his honor. For Mr. Spring had served as honorary chaplain of the post for more than 20 years and had given it its first set of colors in honor of his son. He, too, is dead.

The thousands of men from Jamestown and Chautauqua County who served in 1917-1919 were scattered with every army corps and division and all branches of the service. But Jamestown had one unit of 150 men, Company E, 74th Infantry, New York National Guard, which served on the Mexican border in 1916 chasing Pancho Villa and was returned in time to be federalized in 1917. This unit went across, most of them with the 27th Division but some as the 79th Pioneer Infantry. Seventeen were killed in action and many wounded while serving in many major battles.

The company was commanded, both on the Mexican border and in France by Charles A. Sandburg. Its first lieutenant was A. Bartholdi Peterson, who became the first commander of the Ira Lou Spring Post.

Jamestown welcomed home with enthusiastic parades at least three large contingents of Jamestown servicemen, including Company E and elements of the 78th and 77th Divisions.

From buck privates to Major General Charles J. Bailey who commanded the 81st Division, this city and area provided fighting men in every segment of rank and war activity.

Now the passage of time is erasing more than the veterans. Facts and figures of 50 years ago are hard to come by. You will find some in the public library in old scrap books and probably hundreds of attics. You’ll find some of the most quiet and grey older men in pots of the Legion, FVW, ??? Barracks of WWI and Disabled War Veterans.

And if you want to look carefully through the Veterans Hospitals you can find others for whom the war never ended, even poison gas victims.

They don’t use mustard gas these days, although we have nuclear weapons. That’s evolution.

It was gen. MacArthur, who also served in WWI, who said: “Old soldiers never died, they just fade away.” And they are doing that.

It looks as though by the time Vietnam is in the history books we will be even fewer.

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