Mark Lafayette Fenton (1851-1943)
I happened upon a newspaper article Mr. Fenton in the Harbor History Museum Research Room and thought it might be of interest since he was on of the early settlers at the Burley Colony arriving before 1900.
But before we read the article let me tell you a little bit about Fenton’s history before he arrived in Burley. He was born November 23, 1851 in New York to Lafayette Fenton and Jane F. Nutting. He was the oldest of five children, having two brothers and two sisters. By the time he was 23, he was living in Clinton County, Michigan where he married Ellen Louisa Tracy. He and Ellen had two children, Bessie Fay (1879-1961) and Paul Tracey (1888-1941). Mark moved west where he stayed with the Purdy family while his wife and children remained in Michigan.
So with that background information, let’s get to the newspaper article. Unfortunately, the newspaper’s name and date is not included on the photocopy.
‘Looking Backward’ at Burley “Dream” Colony
Dad Fenton Tells of Troubles of Those Who Tried to Live Bellamy Concept
By Staff Correspondent
BURLEY, Aug. 3—Among the last of the old Burley colonists who settled in this section of Henderson bay almost a half century ago in M. L. Fenton. “Dad” Fenton, to his friends, can tell many an interesting story in connection with his exodus and those of friends from the east and middle western states to what they believed was to be the Eden of their dreams. Mr. Fenton, born in New York state in 1861 (sic), will celebrate his birthday, marking 89 years, on Nov. 23. The years have taken light toll from this pioneer and he goes about the wok on his place with a spryness usually attached to a man many years younger.
Back before the times usually listed as the “delightful 90s”, Edward Bellamy, newspaper man and publisher, was writing such stories as “Looking Backward” and “Equality.“ The books had a wonderful appeal for those who believed in a different deal than was being dealt to their fellow men. The result was that colonies were being formed in different sections of the country with the thought in the mind of the founders that ideas set forth by Mr. Bellamy could be put into practical use.
Burley was one of these projects. A large section of land was obtained here; newspaper, shingle mill and other industries were established in this then wild section. The only road then to the head of the bay colony was a trail. The colonists brought their supplies in from a very rough road across the country from Olalla. The print shop was set up in a log house located between Olalla and Burley until a permanent home could be built at the colony site. Fenton still has copies of some of the first publications of the organization.
Ran Colony Boat
As a youth Mr. Fenton sailed on Lake Ontario, in fact was almost born on the lake. The knowledge gained there in seafaring came in handy here where for a time he had charge of the company boat Kingston, used in towing and delivering supplies from Tacoma to the colony.
In Chicago, where he was engaged in the hardware business the stories of the colonization scheme intrigued this old timer. He quickly decided the Burley colony held his future and came west. “The idea appealed to me” he said. “I knew the program called for a general ownership of all property and a man could not even own a dog or cat. But that was all right as far as I was concerned. The scheme meant the doing away poverty, less work in general and a happy community. However, there were a few and very vital things we failed to take into consideration and the big one was human nature. But at the time there wasn’t a flaw in the measure anywhere.
“People came from all stations in life. Some had never touched the working end of a cross cut saw or knew the art of burning stumps and there were some who turned out to be elocutionists. We found these gathered at the old hotel and willing to tell the other fellow how things ought to be done. Naturally this started dissension. Some of the colonists, not satisfied, went to the Home Colony on Joe’s bay where they figured there was more freedom.
“Each colonist had 10 acres of land but all belonged to the community. We had trouble with the shingle mill. We burned thousands of shingles under the mill boiler. They were not cut properly and we did not seem to be able to locate the trouble. This mill was a Flynn outfit. I believed the difficulty was with the saw. I suggested getting some one to show us how to work it. This was voted down because we were not allowed to hire any one outside the colony.
“Finally this ruined shingle trouble reached a stage where something had to be done. I told our members that I would try and find a man who knew something about the shingle business and get him to make the repairs. I would pay such a man myself. I located an old fellow in Old Tacoma who said he had operated the Hall type of machine. He came to Burley; filed our saw and started us on the right track towards making good shingles. That was only one of our problems.
Four Cents an Hour
“There was a lot of hard work put in at Burley by a number of members of the colony and little pay. There were times that all I made was 4 cents an hour. The internal rifts grew with several of the strongest advocates of the scheme trying to get the organization on a mutual and satisfactory working basis. It was found that people wanted to own their home and litigation followed with the enterprise being taken over by a receiver. The property was finally sold to satisfy the different individuals. I obtained a tract here and have made this my home.
“So a beautiful dream of brotherhood ended. Theoretically, the idea appeared sound. I know I was for it as it seemed to be the cure of our social problems. But the plan would not work.”
Following the collapse of the colony, Mr. Fenton drove the mail stage for about 12 years.
Mr. Fenton died age 92 on October 5, 1943 and is buried in the Burley Cemetery. His wife, Ellen Louisa died on September 12, 1935. Their son Paul died January 8, 1941, and their daughter Bessie Fay Fenton Tilton on February 2, 1961.
- Harbor History Museum Research Room
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