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Tracing Origins: Flood shaped landscape of Franklin County forever

  • Old machinery in one of the buildings at the former Lamson & Goodnow factory in Shelburne Falls. The cutlery firm in Shelburne Falls had its beginnings in 1837 and by the Civil War had teamed with J. Russell Cutlery of Turners Falls and Greenfield to produce more than half of all the cutlery sold in the United States. RECORDER STAFF/Paul Franz


For The Recorder
Published: 12/15/2017 10:17:16 AM

Conway was on a par with Springfield for industrial might at the beginning of the 19th century. There were woolen mills, shoe factories, tool factories and businesses galore. The town had its own power company and its own street railway trolley system. Industrialists began the Conway Railroad to connect their industrial output with the rest of New England.

Mother Nature put an end to Conway’s industrial might, however. In 1896, the skies opened with torrents of heavy October rain. It brought a break in the granite dam at the Tucker and Cook reservoirs. The water flooded the streams and the South River, wrecking homes, bridges, the textile mill and other mills along the way. Despite superhuman efforts to begin again, industry was never the same. The Depression of the 1920s and 1930s withered the town’s efforts even further.

Even tiny New Salem was a giant in the late 1700s with 1,543 people, the county’s second largest town, compared to only 1,498 in Greenfield. New Salem sent 142 men into the Revolutionary War. Today, little New Salem has less than 700 souls and Greenfield nearly 19,000.

Twenty-four of the county’s 26 towns were incorporated during the 18th century. Monroe in 1822, and Erving in 1838 were the last.

The Turners Falls Canal was begun in 1792 and opened in 1798 as a navigation canal to get river traffic around the Great Falls on the Connecticut River, now the site of the Turners Falls dam. After the railroads began to take over heavy freight in the 1840s, the canal was used to provide water power for paper mills in the mid-1800s and for the manufacturing of electricity after that.

The county’s northwestern hill town of Colrain — spelled Coleraine and named after a town in Ireland — earned its place forever in history as the first town in the nation to fly an American flag over a town schoolhouse. It happened on Catamount Hill in 1812.

Hawley and Monroe were described as ‘‘the wild of Township No. 7’’ in 1776.

Hessian troops captured during the Revolutionary War helped settle the Eden Trail section of Bernardston and Leyden.

Benedict Arnold visited Deerfield in 1775 en route to Bennington, Vt. This was before he turned traitor in 1780 and tried to turn over the fortress at West Point to the British. The defense of that fort, by the way, was handed over to Capt. Isaac Newton of Greenfield after Arnold fled.

Many of the county’s businesses of the mid-19th century are still active and growing today.

Lamson & Goodnow, a cutlery firm in Shelburne Falls, had its beginnings in 1837, and by the Civil War had teamed with J. Russell Cutlery of Turners Falls and Greenfield to produce more than half of all the cutlery sold in the United States.

Rodney Hunt Mfg. Co. in Orange was founded in 1840.

The Esleeck Manufacturing Co. in Turners Falls came into being in 1900. The forerunner of Wilson’s department store in Greenfield began in 1882.

There were woolen mills in Greenfield’s Factory Hollow, on the Falls River, that made uniforms for the Civil War.

Mohawk Orchards in Shelburne was begun by Dr. Howard M. Kemp in 1921.

Streeter’s Store in Bernardston began in 1925 and today is one of north county’s most active businesses.

Merriam Graves Corp. was founded in Greenfield in 1926.

The Jarvis Manufacturing Co. in Turners Falls is more than 90 years old.

The three old covered bridges left in the county are the kind that made New England famous. There’s one in Colrain, one in Charlemont and one in Conway. A fourth one — albeit a ‘‘new’’ one — can be found in Greenfield’s picturesque Pumping Station section. It replaces the original span across the Green River that was burned by vandals on Halloween night 1969.

Deerfield, and both organizations have reference libraries.

Mementos can be purchased at Memorial Hall and at the Indian House.

Deerfield was the site of two major battles between settlers and Indians:

One took place in 1675 during King Philip’s War when more than 60 colonial militiamen, escorting wagons of grain from Deerfield to Hadley, were ambushed at Muddy (since then known as ‘‘Bloody’’) Brook and were practically wiped out. Only eight escaped, and none of the 17 Deerfielders returned home.

The second was in 1704, when 340 French soldiers and their Indian allies attacked the village at night. This ‘‘Deerfield massacre’’ resulted in the deaths of some 49 settlers and approximately 20 attackers. Some 111 settlers were forced to walk to Canada (20 were killed en route) and were either adopted into Indian tribes or sold as slaves to the French.

Tim Blagg is a local historian who teaches history at Greenfield Community College. He wrote this brief account of Franklin County’s history while he was editor of the Recorder, a position he held for much of the last four decades.

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