Amid talks of future development, Turners Falls Canal District documentary showcases past

  • Artifacts used for the “The Genesis of a Modern Community” on display during a screening at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The audience gives a round of applause at “The Genesis of a Modern Community” film screening held at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Montague Historical Society member Chris Clawson, at right, watches “The Genesis of a Modern Community” at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Montague Historical Society member Chris Clawson speaks to the audience at “The Genesis of a Modern Community” film screening at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2022 2:28:52 PM

TURNERS FALLS — With Montague officials mulling the future of the Canal District, the Montague Historical Society’s “The Genesis of a Modern Community” film reminds us of where it’s been.

The film, a 24-minute documentary produced primarily by Historical Society member Chris Clawson, was screened at the Great Falls Discovery Center as part of the final installment of the Montague Public Libraries’ “The Turners Falls Canal District: Rediscovering the Past, Planning for the Future” series. The film enlightened attendees to the history behind what was once one of the state’s most significant industrial areas.

Janel Nockleby, visitors’ services supervisor at the Great Falls Discovery Center, introduced Clawson and Historical Society member Ed Gregory, who contributed to the film with edits, historical facts and graphics.

“Where do you begin to talk about these guys?” Nockleby said. “They’re just history nuts and we’re so grateful for their contributions to help flesh out the story of the industrial piece of Turners Falls.”

She praised Clawson for his countless hours of devotion to the film. Gregory added that Clawson had been working on the film since March after the two first came up with the idea last fall. Such effort, Clawson said, is needed to uphold the very purpose history stands for.

“One of the arguments of historic preservation is to leave just enough icons for the eyes,” Clawson said. “To be able to tell the narration that was a part of the life here, and very potentially part of our lives presently.”

The timing of “The Turners Falls Canal District: Rediscovering the Past, Planning for the Future” comes while town officials engage in ongoing Canal District master planning efforts. Earlier this year, residents had their voices heard in a survey about the Canal District’s future, emphasizing their desires for housing and workspaces, among other suggestions. The planning process could include demolishing the area’s most decrepit mill buildings.

To open “The Genesis of a Modern Community,” Clawson summarizes the film as being about “a new community emerging from a virtual wilderness to become a new center of manufacturing and commerce.”

“It was this canal that was the resource that made it all possible,” he continue.

The rest of the film, described by Gregory as “a Ken Burns-type of presentation,” shifts between shots of Clawson, artifacts and a drone’s perspective of the modern Canal District to tell the area’s story. As narrated by Clawson, the canal was conceptualized in 1795 as an alternative freight route to the Connecticut River, which was impeded by waterfalls. A modern steam railroad network then made the canal obsolete in the 1850s.

Manufacturer Alvah Crocker later “saw a great source of natural energy, which could catapult the area industry into the modern age,” leading him to buy canal stock in 1866 and organize the Turners Falls Co., with plans to create “a modern manufacturing city.” The land was developed and companies, such as the Montague Paper Co., took to the Canal District as a hub for their operations.

More details can be found at the Historical Society’s montaguearchive.org or by watching the documentary at vimeo.com/765136559.

Clawson engaged attendees in conversation after the screening, hearing comments and answering questions. He praised those with an interest in the subject, arguing that “you are wise beyond your years if you study history.” Fascination and enjoyment is of value, he added.

“The message is understood and appreciated,” he said, “and if it’s any sort of entertainment, that’s my goal.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy