House relocation causes headlines

Published 7:01 am Sunday, May 28, 2017

Have you ever heard of Carlos Fenton? I had not either until I found an article from 1903 describing the relocation of his house from Austin’s Main Street to the “neighborhood of the college.”

The Austin Daily Herald, dated April 17, 1903, recounted the journey of a house as it related to the development of Austin. It also reinforced the recent project we have undertaken of sharing the stories of Austin’s other historic homes, the people who built them and the part of history they encompass.

I like the way the column’s author described how a community’s history is brought to the surface when a relic of the past undergoes a change.

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“The removal of an old landmark always brings fresh colors to the fading pictures of memory. The days of long ago come back with new force and meaning. The past becomes the present and the intervening years of time are annihilated. Faces and forms that were known in the years gone by again walk among us.”

The author said:

“No dwelling house now standing in Austin could awaken the memories of early days as does the Carlos Fenton house now being removed from its location on Main St.”

The directory of 1899 listed the address of the Fenton home as 111 Main Street North which was near where I believe the business of Clifton Allen Larson is today.

The house was built in 1857 by a man named Ackley who had controversy in his past. Ackley sold to a Mr. Paul who then sold to Sheriff George Bishop who used it as the first jail in the county. Ironically, the house was then sold to Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Sherwood whose daughter married S.D. Catherwood, the subject of one of my earlier historic home columns.

From 1865 until 1903 Carlos Fenton was the owner. He sold it to James Keenan who was the one to move the house from Main Street. The description of Main Street in the late 1850’s is hard to imagine.

“At the time the building [the Fenton home] was erected, Main Street was a dream; the hazel brush had not even been cut through at the time.  Here and there on Water or Mill Street a log house or a rude frame house held the score of families which then made up the population of the town. The business directory can easily be given. On the corner where they are now excavating for the Rogers Livery Barn stood the Rufus Kimball hardware store, a part of which was used as the post office. Next on Chatham Street was the Sprague & Hanchett General Store and next the Leverich house and saloon…”

The chronicle continued but in essence, the town was sparse but those who set up a home or business laid the foundation for the current day city we live in.

The writer called the house the “watch tower of the progress,” and the “witness of many changes.” He compared the moving of the house to that of man — how few people remain in a locality where they are from often passing time surrounded by strangers. He gave life to a house that has a place in history.

Stay tuned for more presentations regarding Austin’s other fine homes with stories to tell.

Songwriting workshop with Charlie Maguire

2 p.m., Monday, June 12