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Turners Falls earns battlefield grant

TURNERS FALLS — It has been 338 years and since the Great Falls on the Connecticut River between present-day Gill and Montague took a place in the bloody geography of King Philip’s War, and two years since the most recent effort to study the battle began.

Unsuccessful last year, the town of Montague’s application to the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program bore $60,000 this month.

The $60,000 grant, with a $3,000 match from the town in the form of 80 hours of grant administration work by the town planner, is to finance a study of the existing written and oral records of the incident from both the European colonial and Native American perspectives, with an eye toward positioning the village to benefit from increased scholarly and tourist interest in what many sources describe as a turning point in the pre-Revolutionary conflict between native tribes and European settlers.

“This project proposes a pre-inventory project to identify the likely locations of the Great Falls Battlefield, and its associated sites ... The project includes a phased plan to protect the site, and provide well-sourced information for a locally proposed park,” reads the award description, in part.

“I think for western Mass. it’s huge. It’s a long-overdue injection into building up historical tourism,” said Joe Graveline of Northfield, president of Franklin County native advocacy group the Nolumbeka Project. “It’s a really good opportunity for a lot of folks who have been working for a long time around here to prove to the federal government that we’ve got what it takes to make something very special happen.”

The effort was begun by Native American scholars and is supported by the historical commissions of Gill, Greenfield, Deerfield, Montague and Northfield, the Historic Deerfield company, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association and the Narragansett, Mashepee Wampanoag, Wampanoag of Gay Head and Nipmuck tribes and the Nolumbeka Project.

Gill, Greenfield and Deerfield all have arguably equal or greater claims to the history of the incident but Montague’s largest village is named for the colonial hero of the raid, Capt. William Turner, and accepted leadership of the grant application by a split vote of the Board of Selectmen. “Somebody had to be the applicant — but it’s really going to be a regional effort,” said local grant coordinator David Brule of Erving, a member of that town’s historical commission and of the Nolumbeka Project.

Turner led the attack and died in the retreat. How many others died from each side, where they died and the nature and significance of the event all remain a bit murky. Complicating matters, the falls and likely much of the battlefield in question are now somewhere under the dammed Connecticut River. Brule said signs and artifacts of the routes taken in the fighting retreat remain.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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