Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938: The Aftermath in Western Massachusetts

"New England tobacco barn."
In the mid-afternoon of September 21, 1938, a fast-moving hurricane, the likes of which hadn't been seen in two-hundred years, slammed without mercy into Long Island, New York, at Great South Bay and continued hastily north along its path of despair, racing across Long Island Sound into the unsuspecting coastal town of Milford, Connecticut. By dinner time, the indiscriminate meteorological demon was tearing up Vermont, leaving Milford and dozens of other New England towns and cities dazed and digging out or underwater in its wake.

Western Massachusetts was not spared the hurricane's scouring winds or stinging, pelting downpour. Indeed, the buckets of precipitation borne westward from the African coast upon the hellish cyclonic winds of September 21st only served to exacerbate an already-saturated Bay State, the abundantly wet summer of 1938 keeping streams, rivers and ponds full and bursting at their banks. When the hurricane hit, the flooding commenced. Wind and water at powerhouse speeds lashed the valleys and hills, and swept the land like a broom of fate.

The following images snapped shortly after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 are from America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black and White Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945, which is part of the American Memory Collections at the website of the Library of Congress. Captions in quotes are from the website.

"House in Amherst, Massachusetts."
Around 9,000 homes were destroyed in New York and New England as a result of the hurricane, with estimates of another 15,000 to 25,000 damaged.

"Tobacco Barn in Amherst, Massachusetts."
In total, about 19,000 structures, including barns and other outbuildings, were considered total losses after the hurricane, their damage was so complete.

"Tobacco barn near Amherst, Massachusetts."
Property damage added up to over $300 million in 1938 dollars, which translates to around 4 to 6 billion 2008 dollars.

"Tobacco barn in Massachusetts."
The Great New England Hurricane, also known as The Long Island Express, pummeled Western Massachusetts tobacco farms, striking during the late season leaf-curing process.

"Chicken house between Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts."
At the height of the rushing hurricane, winds in excess 100 miles per hour hammered New England with a vengeance only unwitting nature can unleash. A wind gust of 186 miles per hour was recorded at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts.

"Farmer clearing debris of chicken house between Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts."
Accounts vary on the storm's ultimate toll in human life and limb. Common estimates put the number of deceased at around 700, with the number of injured at about 1,800.

"Chicken house near Worcester, Massachusetts."
In a matter of a few desperate afternoon hours on the first day of Autumn, healthy, vital livestock was decimated throughout the Pioneer Valley and beyond, farmers left to pick up the pieces of their broken livelihood.

"Chicken house damaged by the debris of a second chicken house which was demolished between Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts."
In addition to the thousands of livestock lost to the chaotic onslaught, upwards of 750,000 unfortunate chickens are thought to have perished on Long Island alone.

"Apple orchard near North Brookfield, Massachusetts. This orchard has seven thousand trees and eighty-five percent of them went down."
Much of the region's ready-to-harvest apple crop was wiped out by the storm. Many mature trees were lost for good, large portions of orchards left in need of replanting.

"Pine wood lot near North Brookfield, Massachusetts."
At one point, the Great New England Hurricane had reached top-ranking on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, clocking in as a Category 5 on September 20th before settling into a horrifically damaging Category 3 on the 21st. Striking the Southern New England coastline at high tide with the moon at full face, the hurricane wreaked havoc unimaginable on a populace virtually unwarned by forecasters of the weather.

"Pine wood lot near Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts."
When the sky cleared and the storm had passed, the Northeast was less 275 million trees in her forests and glens.

"Pine wood lot near Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts."
Amherst's town center was altered forever with drastic destruction: 3,000 trees on and around the Common twisted victims of the storm's swift saber of wind.

"Flooded-over cornfield near Amherst, Massachusetts."
Roads were erased and train tracks washed out when the hellacious hurricane of 1938 swept across Western Massachusetts. In all, 26,000 automobiles were destroyed in its stead.

"Onions, corn stalks, and debris washed across the road by the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts."
The Connecticut River, already swollen with the steady downpour that had fallen relentlessly on the area in the days before the storm, easily reached several feet high above flood stage as the raging torrent of hurricane rain poured from the sky.

"Onions, corn, and a mixture of debris brought in by the Connecticut River flood near Northampton, Massachusetts."
The heavy devastation inland notwithstanding, the coastal areas of Southern New England bore the brunt of the hurricane's blind and calamitous trajectory, with 2,600 boats destroyed and thousands more damaged. Maritime and many other industries, already off-balance as a result of the Great Depression, reeled under nature's cursed blow.

"Salvaging onions near Hadley, Massachusetts."
A landscape strewn with viciously unearthed onions 'twas surely perfumed with a pungent breeze.

"Salvaging onions near Hadley, Massachusetts."
Power went out and communications were lost as nearly 20,000 miles of the electric and telephone lines zig-zagging the Northeast were torn from their masts. Virtually everyone was in the dark in the wake of The Long Island Express. Thirty percent of New England picked up their telephone receivers and heard only dead air.

"Salvaging onions near Hadley, Massachusetts."
A smile of hope after a brush with death. Onions are gathered, weighed and bagged. Life goes on after the storm.

"Onion field near Hadley, Massachusetts."
Today, there are warning systems and around-the-clock weather stations on television and radio to keep folks up to snuff on the latest perceived possible future atmospheric inclinations of Mother Nature. Still, more of us are here now, living on the beaches and in the fertile floodplains, planting our foundations in homes where corn and onions used to grow, or on grains of sand ever-shifting, infinite configurations of storm-whipped possibilities. Are we ready?

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 remains the meanest, strongest, most powerful storm to hit the Northeast in two centuries. Long may it hold that distinction.

Here's a link to a PDF of an interesting 2008 report by Risk Management Solutions, Inc. exploring the potential outcome of a similar storm hitting the Northeast in the modern day:

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Federal Writers' Project: George O. Dunnell, Northfield, Massachusetts

Montague St., Lake Pleasant, Mass.

The Federal Writer's Project began in an effort to put idle writers to work in the throes of the Great Depression. Funded as part of the Works Progress Administration, the project collected the memories of ordinary Americans as government-hired wordsmiths fanned out into the countryside armed with pads and pencils and the patience to listen.

For more stories and additional information about the Federal Writer's Project, check out the collection American Life Histories, Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, at the website of the Library of Congress:

The following is a segment of the ruminations of Northfield merchant, George O. Dunnell, discussing Spiritualism and Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts.

* * *

STATE Massachusetts

NAME OF WORKER Robert Wilder

ADDRESS Northfield, Massachusetts

DATE July 10, 1939

SUBJECT Living Lore


ADDRESS Northfield, Massachusetts

I stopped in to ask Mr. Dunnell if he would like to go along with me on an errand to Lake Pleasant, our "resort" lake beyond Millers' Falls. Mr. Dunnell's rheumatism was "botherin'", business was dull and the excursion proved to be a pleasant diversion.

As we jogged along in my ancient puddle jumper Mr. Dunnell reminisced.

"The only time I ever went to Lake Pleasant was when I was working in Deerfield, and the railroad run an excursion from Greenfield one Sunday. I wanted to hear Nellie Brigham. She was a Colrain girl. Nope, I never took much interest in Spiritualism.

"They was a feller up in Colrain that felt somethin' the way I do now. He had no use for Spiritualists. But his wife was a real devout one. Used to go to all the meetings, and to the camp meeting at Lake Pleasant.

"Lake Pleasant was quite a place in them days - that is, summers.

They wan't nothin' but a few caretakers there winters. The cottages set right side by side, close enough so that you couldn't walk between most of 'em. And they wan't anywhere near the lake, 'cept a few of 'em. They was all through the woods, laid out in blocks with streets and numbers and things. They was a common, somewheres near the center, where they had balloon ascensions and parachute jumps, sometimes. And they was hotels and stores and boarding houses - everything in the pine woods. And, of course, a railroad station. They was a steamboat landing, too, where you could get a ride around the lake for ten cents, and wooden swings, with backs, that would hold two people. They was a couple of amphytheatres in the woods with wooden seats, where if it rained, everybody would get wet except the speaker or the band, which had a little house of their own, down in the center. And, of course, they was the Temple, which was a kind of a church for the Spiritualists. They was also a circle of wooden benches around a flag pole, 'way off in the woods, where the 'mystic circles' was held. And practically every house had a fortune teller in it. Most of 'em wan't Spiritualists at all. They was only in the thing to make money. Oh, it was some place. They built a trolley line out there, too. And on Sunday afternoons when the weather was right, the place was,jammed like Coney Island. People doing nothing but walk up and down 'til they was tuckered out, then sitting down and watching the rest go by.

"They was wuth wat in' watchin', too. The gals had hair that was done way up high, so that their big hats, with flowers and garden truck on 'em, stood right up edgeways. Their hair made an arch above their faces that looked sunthin' like a fat sausage, or maybe, part of a life preserver- I mean the hair, not the faces. They had on shirt waists with high collars that had bones in'em and ruchin' around the edge. They had heavy black, skirts that dragged in the dust, and when they held 'em up a bit, you'd see a little of a white petticoat with flounces on it. Some of 'em carried parasols, but mostly the fellers carried 'em for them. They was pretty busy, what with holding up their skirts to keep 'em from dragging in the dust and feeling around back, slily, to see that their shirt waist hadn't parted company with their skirt. 'Course, I didn't see any, but just the same, I know that they all wore straight front corsets, 'cause that's what give 'em the funny shapes they had.

"Oh, yes, I guess we'd laugh at the fellers now. But they didn't look funny then. Those curly brim derbies would be good for a laugh. And we had long hair, except that it was trimmed - 'blocked' we called it - over our ears and 'round in back, and then our necks shaved, so when we had our derbies on, it looked from the back as if we was wearing felt wigs. And maybe we didn't have some collars. The feller who could wear the highest was best man, I guess. Anyway, some of the collars was stiff, white ones three four inches high. Our coats was padded in the shoulders - reg'lar feather bed on each side. And our britches was 'peg tops.' Don't know where the name come from out the pants was fairly small around the ankles the flaring in the seat. Then most of us had 'bull dogs' for shoes. They was mostly bright yellow. And they had turned up toes with knobs on 'em. Fairly high heels, too. And we wore detachable cuffs, and ready tied neckties, and had watch chains with things hanging on 'em.

"But I'm getting pretty fur away from that feller up in Colrain that had the Spiritualist wife, and didn't believe in spirits himself. He lived on the Shelburne Falls-Colrain Road where the trolley used to run. Shattackville was the name of the place.

"One morning before he got up he was lying there thinking about Spiritualism, and how devoted to it his wife was. And what a comfort it seemed to be to her. 'By George!' he says right out loud, 'I wish that if they's anything in Spiritualism that it would take hold of me! 'He said, next thing he knew suntain' grabbed him. Yes, sir. Yanked him up right out of bed and left him standing shivering out there in the cold. That settled it, he said. He became a believer. Anyway, he built a temple on his place where they used to hold meetings - large building it was, with blue glass winders - still standing, I guess, 't was the last time I was up that way. Folks laughed though. No wonder he believed in Spiritualism. He was a practicing spiritualist all right. Had been right along. Yer see, his business was making cider brandy. And he had his distillery right there next the temple. And as cider brandy is what spirits they is in cider, he was pretty familiar with 'em. They say that that combination of a spirit temple, and a spirit distillery, along with a picnic grove was a pretty profitable thing. And that the spirits made him good and prosperous. I don't know anything about it, but that's what the talk was. Maybe it was the idea of the money he'd make that yanked him out of bed."

More local Federal Writers' Projects stories on Exploring Western Massachusetts.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Amelia Park Ice Arena & Garden Celebrates Ten Years

Westfield's Amelia Park Ice Arena and Garden is one of the finest examples of personal philanthropy in Western Massachusetts. Built as a tribute to his late wife Amelia, Albert F. Ferst has created an amazing skating complex within a nearly 50,000 square foot facility, the culmination of a dream the woman affectionately known as "Millie" had held dear to her heart.

Outside the arena, Amelia's Garden graces a beautifully transformed acre of land replete with flowers and foliage, statuettes and streaming waterfalls.

Today, September 10, 2010, is Amelia Park's 10th anniversary, which is being marked with a celebration to be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. complete with cake, free skating (rentals $3), face painting and more.

For details, visit:

Noble Hospital will be offering free blood pressure screening at Amelia Park during today's event. A prescription for inner peace could surely include a slow walk through the garden, likely to bring calm to even the highest-strung soul.

"Amelia Ferst was a beautiful, humble person who never looked to be
recognized for all the good deeds she did. She and her husband Albert
always saw with their hearts the needs of the community and took
every opportunity to enrich the lives of others.

This garden has been created as a loving tribute to Amelia, her vision
and her commitment to the future of Westfield and its children.

The splendor of the flowers is a reflection of her beauty.

The chirping of the birds is the sweet melody of her voice.

The soft whisper of the wind is the quiet manner in which she gave to others.

The warmth of the sun is the embrace of her love.

The springtime rebirth of the garden is her unwavering belief in God."

As the seasons change and autumn makes her entry, some colors brighten, some shades fade. All the hue and cry of nature unbound, splashed on cosmic canvas to become portraits ever-changing, memories everlasting.

There are some who walk the path whose footprints never fade.

Amelia Garden is an acre of undying love, watered and nurtured, the fruit a harvest of joy to be savored.

Sit for a bit and reflect. Let the sights and sounds carry you away in place.

Bricks fired in the kiln of the passionate heart. Mortar mixed in turning days strung together as a life well-lived. Memorials and tributes in stone, for the ages to behold. A garden is the work of a beautiful soul.

A gazebo and trellises grace the garden. Sixty-four beds of flowers masterfully maintained are individual smiles.

"Lives are filled with happiness when hearts are filled with love."

Our lives are each one of themselves a time capsule, stored in the hearts of those who would remember our passing. The world is a better place because of Amelia and Albert Ferst.

Here is a link to the Amelia Ice Arena & Garden's website:

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Legend of Wahconah Falls

Wahconah Falls
From Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, Vol. 4, Tales of Puritan Land by Charles M. Skinner, 1896

The pleasant valley of Dalton, in the Berkshire Hills, had been under the rule of Miacomo for forty years when a Mohawk dignitary of fifty scalps and fifty winters came a-wooing his daughter Wahconah. On a June day in 1637, as the girl sat beside the cascade that bears her name, twining flowers in her hair and watching leaves float down the stream, she became conscious of a pair of eyes bent on her from a neighboring coppice, and arose in some alarm. Finding himself discovered, the owner of the eyes, a handsome young fellow, stepped forward with a quieting air of friendliness, and exclaimed, "Hail, Bright Star!"

"Hail, brother," answered Wahconah.

"I am Nessacus," said the man, "one of King Philip's soldiers. Nessacus is tired with his flight from the Long Knives (the English), and his people faint. Will Bright Star's people shut their lodges against him and his friends?"

The maiden answered, "My father is absent, in council with the Mohawks, but his wigwams are always open. Follow."

Nessacus gave a signal, and forth from the wood came a sad-eyed, battle-worn troop that mustered about him. Under the girl's lead they went down to the valley and were hospitably housed. Five days later Miacomo returned, with him the elderly Mohawk lover, and a priest, Tashmu, of repute a cringing schemer, with whom hunters and soldiers could have nothing in common, and whom they would gladly have put out of the way had they not been deterred by superstitious fears. The strangers were welcomed, though Tashmu looked at them gloomily, and there were games in their honor, Nessacus usually proving the winner, to Wahconah's joy, for she and the young warrior had fallen in love at first sight, and it was not long before he asked her father for her hand. Miacomo favored the suit, but the priest advised him, for politic reasons, to give the girl to the old Mohawk, and thereby cement a tribal friendship that in those days of English aggression might be needful. The Mohawk had three wives already, but he was determined to add Wahconah to his collection, and he did his best, with threats and flattery, to enforce his suit. Nessacus offered to decide the matter in a duel with his rival, and the challenge was accepted, but the wily Tashmu discovered in voices of wind and thunder, flight of birds and shape of clouds, such omens that the scared Indians unanimously forbade a resort to arms. "Let the Great Spirit speak," cried Tashmu, and all yielded their consent.

Invoking a ban on any who should follow, Tashmu proclaimed that he would pass that night in Wizard's Glen, where, by invocations, he would learn the divine will. At sunset he stalked forth, but he had not gone far ere the Mohawk joined him, and the twain proceeded to Wahconah Falls. There was no time for magical hocus-pocus that night, for both of them toiled sorely in deepening a portion of the stream bed, so that the current ran more swiftly and freely on that side, and in the morning Tashmu announced in what way the Great Spirit would show his choice. Assembling the tribe on the river-bank, below a rock that midway split the current, a canoe, with symbols painted on it, was set afloat near the falls. If it passed the dividing rock on the side where Nessacus waited, he should have Wahconah. If it swerved to the opposite shore, where the Mohawk and his counselor stood, the Great Spirit had chosen the old chief for her husband. Of course, the Mohawk stood on the deeper side. On came the little boat, keeping the centre of the stream. It struck the rock, and all looked eagerly, though Tashmu and the Mohawk could hardly suppress an exultant smile. A little wave struck the canoe: it pivoted against the rock and drifted to the feet of Nessacus. A look of blank amazement came over the faces of the defeated wooer and his friend, while a shout of gladness went up, that the Great Spirit had decided so well. The young couple were wed with rejoicings; the Mohawk trudged homeward, and, to the general satisfaction, Tashmu disappeared with him. Later, when Tashmu was identified as the one who had guided Major Talcott's soldiers to the valley, the priest was caught and slain by Miacomo's men.

Wahconah Falls State Park:

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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Brimfield Antique Show

Brimfield c1850 - M. Bradley Litho.
The Brimfield Antique Show's fall dates fast approach, with this autumn's show beginning on Tuesday, September 7, and running through Sunday, September 12, 2010.

Since its inception in the mid-20th century, the Brimfield show has grown to become recognized as the largest of its kind in the United States, drawing thousands of shoppers and sellers, both domestic and international. Indeed, a recent article in the Dallas Morning News refers to the Brimfield Show as "legendary," and one of the (unofficial) top two in the country, the other being the Marbarger Farm Antique Show in Round Top, Texas.

To give one an idea of the scale of the Brimfield Antique Show, the article notes that the Round Top event averages about 40,000 visitors per bi-annual five-day show, while the figures for Brimfield are closer to 250,000 per thrice-annual six-day run. To be fair, the population of Round Top is just 77, compared to Brimfield's 3,000 or so year-round residents. Guess everything isn't bigger in Texas, after all.

The Brimfield Antique Show is held outdoors along the old Boston Post Road, Route 20, in Brimfield, Massachusetts, with vendors lining both sides of the road. Parking is available for a fee in various locations. As well as hosting a tremendous variety of vintage goods and antiques, food and drink for every taste can be found at the Brimfield show.

Here's a link to a handy website with lots more information on the Brimfield Antique Show:

And to the Marbarger Farm Antique Show in Central Texas:

Brimfield Antique Show 2011 schedule:

May 10 - 15  ~  July 12 - 17  ~  September 6 - 11

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Image source: Historical celebration of the town of Brimfield, Hampden County, Mass., 1879, Author Charles McEwen Hyde, The C. W. Bryan company, printers, Springfield, Mass.,

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This Month in Western Massachusetts History: September

B O R N :

1 Sept 1792 - Chester Harding - (1 Sept 1792 - 1 Apr 1866) - Portrait Artist - Born in Conway, resided 36 years in Springfield

6 Sept 1946 - Francis Xavier Healy - (6 Sept 1946 - ) - Major League Baseball Catcher; Sports Broadcaster - Born in Holyoke

15 Sept 1974 - Creighton Williams Abrams, Jr. - (15 Sept 1914 - 4 Sept 1974) - U.S. Army General; Army Chief of Staff - Namesake of the M1 Abrams Tank - Born in Springfield, raised in Feeding Hills - Buried in Arlington National Cemetery

27 Sept 1966 - Stephanie Diana Wilson - (27 Sept 1966 - ) - Engineer; NASA Astronaut - Lived in Pittsfield

30 Sept 1824 - Charles Pomeroy Stone - (30 Sept 1824 - 24 Jan 1887) - U. S. Army Officer; Surveyor; Engineer, Statue of Liberty Foundation and Pedestal, etc. - Born in Greenfield

D I E D :

4 Sept 1974 - Creighton Williams Abrams, Jr. - (See above)

11 Sept 1851 - Sylvester Graham, Rev. - (5 Jul 1794 - 11 Sept 1851) - Creator of the Graham Cracker; Dietary Reformist; Minister - Resided in Northampton

24 Sept 1991 - Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss - (2 Mar 1904 - 24 Sept 1991) - Author; Illustrator, Green Eggs and Ham, etc. - Born and raised in Springfield

28 Sept 1891 - Herman Melville - (1 Aug 1819 - 28 Sept 1891) - Author, Moby-Dick - Lived in Pittsfield

28 Sept 1938 - Charles Edgar Duryea - (15 Dec 1861 - 28 Sept 1938) - Co-producer of first gasoline-powered automobile; Co-founder of the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. - Springfield

29 Sept 1825 - Daniel Shays - (1741 - 29 Sept 1825) - American revolutionary remembered for 'Shays's Rebellion' 1786-87 - Resided in Pelham, buried in Springwater, NY.

H A P P E N E D :

2 Sept 1902 - On a visit to Massachusetts, President Theodore Roosevelt stops in Westfield and appears before a large crowd gathered to hear him speak from a platform on the town Green.

5 Sept 1892 - The newly-constructed Court Square Theater Building on Elm Street in Springfield is dedicated. Performances of "If I Were You," a comedy by William Young, and "Diana," burlesque by Sydney Rosenfeld, are given by the Manola-Mason Company. The building is owned by Dwight O. Gilmore and sets him back $250,000.

10 Sept 1799 - The first meeting of The Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike Corporation is held in Hardwick at the home of Jonathan Warner. When finished, the turnpike links Amherst and Shrewsbury.

10 Sept 1938 - From books to buildings, the Massachusetts Water District Supply Commission holds an auction of items it holds in the Swift River Valley, soon to be flooded for Quabbin Reservoir. It takes place in Enfield's Town Hall, which itself is sold that day for $550.00, a high price in comparison to the Enfield Grange Hall, which sells for the paltry sum of $35.00.

16 Sept 1940 - The Summit House atop Mt. Holyoke is the site of dedication ceremonies for the new Skinner State Park, named after land-donor Joseph Skinner.

17 Sept 1941 - Water begins to flow through the aqueduct connecting Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs for the first time, marking an exponential expansion of Greater Boston's public water supply.

21 Sept 1938 - The Great New England Hurricane claims an estimated 700 lives on its path of destruction. By September 22, the Connecticut River is coursing through the Franklin County town of Montague at nearly 17 feet above flood stage. 19,000 structures, 26,000 vehicles and 2,600 boats are lost to the devastation.

24 Sept 1847 - The American Dictionary of the English Language is first published by the Merriam brothers, George and Charles, in Springfield.

26 Sept 1786 - Daniel Shays leads 600 men on a protest march to the courthouse in Springfield. The Supreme Judicial court session taking place is duly interrupted and subsequently adjourned as a result of the group's actions in pursuit of financial justice against an unforgiving and slanted system. Although General Shepard of Westfield keeps a watchful eye on the citizen militia, no violence ensues between his troops and the marchers, and no one is taken into custody. With similar uprisings having occurred in Northampton and Worcester, it is decided to forego the October session of the court, meant to be held in Great Barrington. The birth of the United States Constitution is hastened by  these acts of civil disobedience.

28 Sept 1793 - The Franklin County town of Gill is incorporated.

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