The act erecting the county of Franklin was approved June 24, 1811, and took effect from and after Dec. 2, 1811. The petitioners for the new county were Joshua Green, Roger Leavitt, William Taylor, Jonathan McGee, Robert L. McClellen, William Bull, Hezekiah Newcomb, Stephen Webster, Gilbert Stacey, Solomon Smead, Elijah Alvord (2d), Epaphras Hoyt, Medad Alexander, Justus Russell, Joseph Metcalf, Clark Stone, Asaph White, Somes Root, Samuel Bardwell, Samuel Rice, Varney Pearce, and Isaac Taylor, who, according to the statement set forth in the petition, were inhabitants of Buckland, Charlemont, Heath, Rowe, Coleraine, Shelburne, Leyden, Bernardston, Gill, Greenfield, Deerfield, Northfield, Warwick, Orange, Wendell, Montague, New Salem, and the plantation of Erving's Grant.
The reasons set forth for the division of Hampshire County were its great size, the distances from the extremes of the old county to the county-seat, and the consequent expense; the multiplicity of actions and delays of trials. The petition was presented to the General Court on the 28th day of January, 1811.
Remonstrances, adopted in town-meetings, against the division of Hampshire and the organization of Franklin Counties, were-sent in by the towns of Northampton, Conway, Hawley, Whately, Leverett, Easthampton, Worthington, Chester, Southampton, Westhampton, Goshen, Williamsburg, Plainfield, Cummington, and Norwich.
A communication from Westfield, favoring the division of Hampshire into three counties, was also sent to the Legislature.
The report of the legislative committee in favor of the division was made on the 18th of June, 1811, and on the 19th the Senate and House concurred.
The act establishing the county made Greenfield the county-seat, but it was not allowed to carry off the honor without a long and bitter controversy. The most prominent contestants were the towns of Greenfield and Deerfield. The principal movers in the contest were Richard E. Newcomb, Elijah Alvord, and George Grinnell on the part of Greenfield, and Epaphras Hoyt, Rufus Saxton, and Pliny Arms on behalf of Deerfield; but the entire county was stirred up, and took an active part in the various movements for one or the other of the principal towns.
In November, 1811, a mass convention was held in Greenfield for the purpose of taking action to procure a change in the organic act and have the county-seat removed to Cheapside (Deerfield) before any public buildings were erected at Greenfield. With the exception of two, every town in the county was represented in that convention, and there was a great amount of excitement.
The first movement was to draw up and procure signatures to a petition for the annexation of the northern tier of towns in Hampshire County to Franklin County, but while the instrument was lying on the table awaiting the signatures of delegates—a very few having signed it—it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, and was never afterward seen or heard of. But the record of this alleged fraudulent abstraction, together with all other reasons urged for removal to Cheapside, were presented to the Legislature.
A summary of the claims of the rival towns is here presented: For Cheapside, it was claimed that it was the geographical and traveling centre of the county; that the towns east of the Connecticut and south of the Deerfield Rivers could save toll by leaving their horses and carriages at the bridges and paying toll only as foot-passengers; that the water at Cheapside was excellent, while that at Greenfield was unfit to use; that its proximity to the villages of Deerfield and Greenfield would always prevent exorbitant demands by landlords and boarding-houses; that all kinds of common labor and material were much cheaper; that it was in the midst of excellent pasturage-lands, surrounded by abundant forests for fuel, and contiguous to the best hayfields in the county, from which Greenfield received its principal supply; that it was the head of boat-navigation for this part of the country, and portions of Vermont; that it was growing in commercial importance, and was the great outlet for the produce of the farmer, and the place of deposit from which the greater part of the importations of the country were received; that it was pleasantly situated on the margin of the Deerfield River, overlooking the adjoining meadows; that the people of the south and east portions of the county would be obliged to pass through it to get to Greenfield; that two responsible gentlemen stood ready to build two taverns the following season, and that every desirable accommodation for courts would soon be furnished, and at a much cheaper rate than in Greenfield, the price of land being as only one to ten; that Cheapside subscriptions in cash, land, and materials exceed those of Greenfield; that a large majority of the towns, the people, and the valuation of the county favored the change; that it was in the vicinity of a quarry of excellent stone for building purposes, a running brook, and excellent materials for the manufacture of brick; that it was nearer Erving's Gore,2 from which most of the necessary lumber must cme for the new buildings; that wood was sixty-seven cents per cord and team-work twenty-five per cent. cheaper than at Greenfield, and board for laborers fifty cents per week cheaper; and, finally, that a gentleman of undoubted responsibility had offered, in writing, for nineteen hundred dollars of the Cheapside subscription, to build a court-house as large as the one at Northampton, and a fire-proof clerk's office, and turn over the remainder of the subscription to help build the jail.
2 Erected into the town of Erving, April 17, 1838.
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