The Turners Falls Company

Dam on Connecticut River at Turners Falls

Dam on Connecticut River at Turners Falls

(Adapted from “Picturesque Franklin” , Wade, Warner & Co. , Northampton MA 1891)

Such is the title of the corporation which controls and furnishes water power to the various manufacturing concerns in Turners Falls. The origin of the first corporation for the purpose in this vicinity dates back to the year 1792, when the “Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Connecticut River” were incorporated by the state of Massachusetts for the purpose of making certain parts of the river navigable for boats and rafts. Among the names of the incorporators were several Hampshire men of note in their day, the county at that time running the whole width of the state, Franklin and Hampden not being set off until 1811. The act incorporating the first company was passed Feb. 23, 1892, and for its quaintness of phraseology deserves reproduction here:

An Act incorporating the Hon. John Worthington, Esquire, and others therein named for the purpose of rendering Connecticut River passable for boats and other Things, from the Mouth Of Chickapee River, northward throughout this Commonwealth, by the name of the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on Connecticut River.”

” Whereas, removing the obstructions to the passing of boats and other craft, made use of for the purpose of transportation upon Connecticut River, from the mouth of Chickapee River, so called, will he of great public utility,” etc.

“Sect. 1. Be it therefore enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives assembled, and by the authority of the same, That the Honorable John Worthington, Caleb Strong, Theodore Sedgwick, David Sexton, Samuel Lyman and Samuel Fowler, Esquires, and Robert Breck, Jonathan Dwight, Thomas Dwight, Justin Ely, Dwight Foster, Samuel Henshaw, Ebenezer Hunt, John Hooker Esquires, Messieurs Ebenezer Lane, William Moore, Benjamin Prescott, Levi Shepard, William Smith, Simeon Strong and John Williams are hereby incorporated,” etc.

Within a few years after the passage of this act improvements were begun at Holyoke and Montague. In 1794 the corporation already named was formed into two, one bearing the old title and the other known as the “Proprietors of the Upper Locks and Canals.” The former built the dam and canal at Holyoke while the latter improved the river at Turners Falls. A canal about three miles in length was made in Montague, around Turners Falls, a considerable portion of the capital required having been furnished by Dutch capitalists. The investment gave profitable returns for. many years, but the exhaustion of the timber in the upper parts of the valley, and the construction of railroads, led to its abandonment for navigation purposes. In 1868, the stock having passed into new hands, the name of the corporation was changed to the Turners Falls company, and they were authorized to increase their capital stock to $1,000,000; the object of the new company being to develop the vast water power furnished by the Connecticut river at this point, and thereby build up a manufacturing city. For this purpose Turners Falls is well adapted, being beautifully located on the Connecticut river, a short distance from Greenfield, only two or three miles from the main lines of the Fitchburg, New London Northern and Connecticut river railroads, and directly reached by branches of the Fitchburg and N. Y., N. H. & H. railroads. The city is handsomely laid out, with wide streets and some fine residences adorn the heights which overlook the town, as hinted at in the views given in this work. So much at least should be said of the place, because the Turners Falls company made it. It remains to speak briefly of the power and the men who contributed to the development of it. Dispensing with all technical description of the source of power, it should be noted that at Turners Falls the river runs northerly for a short distance and then bends sharply to the west and south. On the upper part of the bend in the river is the dam. It runs across from the left bank, with a slight curve up stream, to a rocky island in midstream, and then continues with straight course to the right bank, as shown in the engraving on the opposite page. In 1880 the entire cost of the roll-way of the dam was placed at $113,000 and the bulkhead at $35,000. The dam is one of the strongest in the country, resting throughout on ledge rock, and varies from twenty to thirty feet in height. It is a log crib-work, the interstices packed with loose stone. The; dam abuts against natural ledges everywhere except on the Turners Falls shore. Here is an artificial masonry abutment and bulkhead, about 150 feet long by 35 feet wide and rising 15 feet above the crest of the dam farther inshore are five arched openings through which the water passes to the gates and afterwards into the canal. The canal is confined to one level, extending about 3000 feet, approximately parallel to the river, and at a distance from it varying from 100 to 250 feet in the main part of its course. It has an average width of fifty feet and a water depth of ten feet. Close to the dam the fall to the river is about 28 ‘feet and the greatest fall utilized on the line of the canal is 41 feet. This race was largely excavated through rock and was therefore expensive, having cost up to 1871 $82,000. The horse power in use at this point is stated to be about 4,000, but this exceeds the amount actually, leased and the total amount of power furnished at the dam is estimated at 30,000 horses. Power is disposed of to manufacturers under a perpetual lease. The usual rate has been $7.50 per annum per horse power, rental reserved, but there is no established rate for the future and there is room for many more mill sites and ample power. The greatest part of the utilized power is in use day and night, being employed by paper-mills, and there is always a large surplus. From the crest of the Turners Falls dam to the crest of the Holyoke dam there is a fall of about seventy-five feet.

The present officers of the Turners Falls company are as follows:

President—Charles A. Stevens of Ware.

Clerk and treasurer—Charles W. Hazelton of Turner Falls.

Directors—B. N. Farren, Montague City; C. T. Crocker, Fitchburg; Charles A. Stevens, Ware; Moses Bulkley, New York; R. N. Oakman, Montague City; Geo. F. Fay, Fitchburg; Clemens Herschel, New York; D. P. Abercrombie, Turners Falls.

Alvah Crocker

Alvah Crocker

C. W. Hazleton, in addition to his duties as clerk and treasurer of the company, also acts as civil engineer, assisted by W. P. Crocker as consulting engineer.

As before noted, the development of Turners Falls began with the establishment of this company, and it would be unjust not to pay due tribute to the men who were foremost in the enterprise. These were more particularly Alvah Crocker and Wendell T. Davis, whose portraits appear on this page. It was Mr. .Crocker who saw the great possibilities of the place and he interested other capitalists and pur­chased the franchise of the old company, as already stated. A few words regarding this noted, public-spirited and enterprising man will naturally be expected in this place, Alvah Crocker was a native of Leominster and was a factory operative at eight years of age, yet he managed to secure an academic education and began the paper-making business in Fitchburg at 22 years of age. From this time on his success was uninterrupted. He was interested in constructing the Vermont & Massachusetts and the Fitchburg railroads, was president of the former and rode into Fitchburg on the engine of the first train which came into town in 1845. He served in both branches of the Legislature and in Congress and was closely connected with the Hoosac tunnel enterprise. He was interested in later life in seven large paper-mills in and near Fitchburg and one at Turners Falls ; was as already shown, the originator of the power company and the national and saving-banks bear his name. He was a man of indefatigable energy and enterprise and whatever he took an interest in was bound to go. With all his engrossment in the multifarious affairs of business, he was with his friends as simple as a child, and the writer well remembers when himself a child, entrusted to Col. Crocker’s care, on the cars from Boston to Greenfield, how assiduously that gentleman cherished and entertained his charge during what seemed a long ride. Mr. Crocker attained the ” three score years and ten,” with three to spare ere he was called to the higher life, and Turners Falls lost, Dec. 26, 1874, the first of the founders of its industries.

At the time of his death Col. Crocker had ambitious plans in hand for Turners Palls, and it is impossible to say what might not have happened had he been spared ten years longer. His desire was to build up here a manufacturing city greater than Lowell or Holyoke, but his death was but the precursor of others to follow, for all the ” founders of Turners Falls industries,” whose portraits are given on this and succeeding pages, died within a few years of Col. Crocker.

Wendell T. Davis

Wendell T. Davis

Wendell T. Davis was another of Turners Falls’ favorite sons by business adoption. He was a native of Sandwich, born in 1818, and, graduating at Harvard, was admitted to the bar and partnership in Greenfield with his brother-in-law George T. Davis and Charles Devens,Jr.,for seven years, only to become, through his clerkship in the “Upper Locks and Canals ” corporation interested in the subsequent enterprise of developing Turners Falls. He was the “moving spirit” here with Col. Crocker, but it should not be inferred that he neglected Greenfield. He became interested in real estate there and Davis street was named in his honor. For many years he was clerk of the Troy & Greenfield railroad corporation. He was also trial justice at Greenfield and heard more cases than any other man before his time in the county. He was appointed register of bankruptcy in 1875. Once he formed a law partnership with Austin DeWolf, which continued for eleven years, when he took as a partner F. G. Fessenden. Mr. Davis was a social man, had a kind word for all, was a friend of the poor and his death was generally lamented in Franklin county. He died about two years after Col. Crocker, Dec. 3, 1876.

Embodied in a report to the “Franklin Institute,” by James B. Francis, civil engineer, we find the following interesting account of the construction of the Turners Falls dam, which shows, graphically, the difficulties the founders of the Turners Falls company had to cope with in carrying their celebrated public work to completion:

” A dam had been maintained for many years by the old Navigation Company, but since the disuse of the canal, one-half of it had been carried away, and the remainder had become greatly dilapidated. The first work undertaken by the Turners Falls Company, was to construct a new dam across the river, about twenty-three feet in height and nine hundred feet in length, of timber and stone.”

“At the site of the dam the river is divided into two branches by a rocky island about forty feet high. The part of the old dam still remaining was between this island and the Gill shore, diverting the entire flow, in ordinary stages of the river, to the channel on the Montague side of the island. Advantage was taken of this to construct the dam on the Gill side, before doing anything on the Montague side, the new dam being built a short distance below the old one. This part of the new dam was so constructed that the water could be turned through it, so as to enable the part on the Montague side to be built without making a coffer-dam high enough to turn the water over the top of the finished part of the dam on the Gill side. For this purpose, about two hundred feet in length was left about twelve feet below the level of the top of the finished part of the dam. To enable this opening to be built up when the dam on the Montague side was completed, large timbers were placed vertically from the top of the dam, about eight feet apart, and supported by tie-rods, anchored to the rock. While the dam on the Montague side was being built, it was designed that the whole flow of the river should pass between these timbers and through the opening in the dam ; and when the other parts of the dam were completed, the flow through the opening should be stopped and the water turned over the top of the finished dam, by planking up the timbers put in for that purpose. During October, 1866. the coffer-dam on the Montague side was completed, and the entire flow of the river was diverted through the opening on the Gill side. On the 31st of that month, however, there was a freshet, which brought down trees and stumps, and broke away some rafts of timber intended for the new dam. These came against the vertical timbers, breaking them off, and the great volume of water rushing through the opening washed out the substructure of the dam, clean to the rock, for about one hundred and ten feet in width. On the subsidence of the freshet, work was resumed on the Montague side, the river flowing through the breach on the Gill side, and by the middle of December the dam on the Montague side was completed.

And now came the interesting question, what was to be done with the breach in the dam? If it was allowed to remain until another season, there was great reason to fear that the whole of the section on the Gill side of the island would be carried away when the ice broke up in the spring.

On the other hand, to fill up the breach during the winter seemed to be scarcely practicable, the great difficulty being to divert the flow of water from the breach. This could only be done by turning it over the top of the finished part of the dam; but in order to do this the water must be raised twelve or fifteen feet, by means of the coffer-dam, above the breach, directly in the current. This coffer dam must be built and the breach filled up before the ice broke up in the spring, otherwise it was deemed certain that all which might be done would be carried away. The Connecticut river is subject to freshets at all seasons of the year. In the winter a thaw of a few days will often break up the ice in some of the tributaries, carrying it into the main river, where it accumulates and subsequently freezes together, so that when a high freshet occurs in the main river, masses of ice, often exceeding ten feet in thickness, are carried down with the current. Such a freshet is looked for every year, in January or February, and if one occurred before the breach could be filled, it would render useless all that might be done. Then there was the difficulty of doing any work, in the water, in a climate of such severity as that of Northern Massachusetts, to say nothing of the short days. However, the practical men who would have the work to do, were willing to attempt it, and felt confident that if they escaped a winter freshet, they could accomplish it. It was accordingly decided by the directors of the company to make the attempt.”

The report goes on to describe the construction of the coffer-dam, at length, but we have not room for the technical description, suffice it to say that it was prosecuted throughout the winter of 1866-67 under fairly favorable circumstances. There was no freshet in the river sufficient to break up the ice while the work was in progress, and although seventy men were employed no accident occurred beyond the loss of two piers, caused by the breaking of guys. Thus was executed a work remarkable for boldness and ingenuity of design, simplicity of means and skill and courage in execution, reflecting great credit upon the contractors, Messrs. Potter & Richardson and the projectors, Alvah Crocker and Wendell T. Davis.