Visitors to the second floor of Smith Memorial Library this week will find an exhibit of Civil War artifacts with strong connections to Chautauqua County history.
The season-long exhibit is from the collection of library employee Deborah Reynolds, who attributes the interest in Civil War memorabilia to family history.
“My husband Bill’s great-great-great grandfather was New York Governor Reuben Eaton Fenton, who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s,” Reynolds said. The Smith Library exhibit includes a daguerreotype photograph of Fenton and one of his wife, Elizabeth Scudder. Following the assassination of Lincoln, Fenton helped to support Mary Todd Lincoln and joined the Fenton family in both Michigan and Germany during travel excursions, Reynolds said.
A Free Soil Democrat in opposition to his own party, Fenton vehemently opposed slavery, and his first major speech while serving in Congress was in 1854 in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a proposal to expand slavery further into the western territories. Fenton served as New York governor from 1865 to 1868 and U.S. Senator from 1869 to 1875. He was given the nickname “The Soldier’s Friend” for his efforts to help returning Civil War soldiers and their families.
Fenton’s home “Walnut Grove” in Jamestown, N.Y., is now the Fenton History Center. It is here, Reynolds said, that her son, William, was first introduced to the Civil War and the significance of the family connection to this time in the nation’s history. William is a Civil War re-enactor and now a member of the 72nd Regiment Company B New York State Infantry Volunteers. His uniform and different accoutrements used for re-enacting are part of the exhibit. Many of the pieces on exhibit were found during family trips to Gettysburg and during William’s trips to battle sites throughout the eastern United States.
Reynold’s exhibit will be on display through Week Nine and into the off-season at Smith Memorial Library.