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Effort Launched To Rename Turners Falls

Turners Falls, Massachusetts.
File Photo
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

Some residents of Turners Falls, Massachusetts, want to change the name of their village to one they consider more respectful.

Turners Falls was named after Captain William Turner, thought to have led a 17th century battle that killed more than 100 members of the Nipmuc Nation tribe.

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition to rename the village to Great Falls.

Steve Ellis is town administrator for Montague, which includes Turners Falls. Ellis said the "atrocities" of Captain Turner have long been acknowledged, but this year feels different.

“Whether it's statues or whether it's the name of a marketplace or whatever it might be, there's just been a lot of increasing attention and I'll call it scrutiny," Ellis said. "And I think it is fair to say that questions of equity and of history and institutional racism...are on the public's mind at this point in time.”

Ellis is not taking a stand on the matter.

He said organizers must collect 100 verified signatures from residents to get the name change on a special town meeting agenda. He’s also consulting with a lawyer on whether renaming a village requires state legislation, should it come to that.

Another petition to “retain” the name of Turners Falls has gotten about half the signatures as the one to change it.

This is not the first time in recent years Montague has grappled with a name change over issues of cultural respect. The mascot for the Turners Falls High School was changed from the Indians to the Thunder, after a campaign claiming the original name was offensive to Native Americans.

Ellis said he hopes lessons learned during that debate will carry over to discussions over changing the village's name.

“The tone and tenor of the dialogue...around an issue that may be controversial is really essential,” he said. “When people engage each other in very respectful ways, people feel better about the outcome and it strengthens our community.” 

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