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Ashfield

Center Hill Cemetery Monument
Location: Norton Hill Road, Ashfield
Coordinates: 42°31’18.4″N 72°47’58.6″W
Date dedicated: September 28, 1867
Architect/contractor: Benjamin Franklin Dwight of Boston

In March 1866, the town voted to dedicate a monument to those residents who “sacrificed their lives to sustain the government against the slave holder’s rebellion.” The language of this vote is noteworthy for its decidedly emancipationist tone. The inscription is unusual for the title it ascribes to the war, “To the Everlasting Memory of the Sons of Ashfield Who Died in the War of Nationality, 1861-1865.”

Two famous summer residents of Ashfield, both eminent scholars, pressed for the monument: George William Curtis, a writer, popular speaker, and advocate for civil rights; and Charles Eliot Norton, widely respected art historian and also an activist and social reformer. According to historian Alfred S. Roe, it was their idea that the monument should be in the form of a drinking fountain, thus combining memorialization with a practical use.[1] Curtis gave the dedication address. His morale, according to one report, was that “those who break the moral law of good shall pay for it with their heart’s blood, and that there can be no permanent government without the moral law of good.”[2] Curtis, naturally, referred to emancipation and the destruction of slavery.

Curtis wrote shortly after its dedication some poetic lines about the monument. An excerpt reads: “The thought of these brave boys, unmindful of glory, intent only upon duty, whose names we spell out as we stop on our way in the summer noon, refreshes our hope and faith, and stimulates nobler endeavor as the living water from the hills which we sip enlivens and comforts our frames.”[3]

A total of 124 men from Ashfield served in the war. Twelve died in service. The first group to enlist did so during the first weeks of the war, consisting of 15 men who became part of Company H of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry. The company was made up of men from surrounding towns and trained mostly in nearby Shelburne Falls. On May 15, shortly before shipping south, the company made a lengthy march through several towns and camped overnight in Ashfield. The event was long remembered in the town as an exciting celebration, and typical of the fervor of the early days of the war.[4] The 10th Massachusetts had a long and hard service with the Army of the Potomac.

A more sober atmosphere dominated the assembly of one of the later groups from Ashfield to enlist. In the summer of 1862, when Lincoln put out another call for troops, some young men gathered, decided to enlist, and were assigned to the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry. There had been an enthusiastic recruitment meeting earlier in the day but the men decided to meet privately. According to a local historian, “they said they did not care to make a scene at the meeting, they preferred to do it quietly without a show.”[5] Four of them died of disease during service or shortly after their discharge.

This monument was originally located closer to the center of town at the junction of Main Street and Norton Hill Road. After the town’s second Civil War monument was dedicated in Plain Cemetery in 1917, some consideration was given to disposing of the old monument as it was, by that time, a hazard to automobile traffic. Residents instead decided to move it to Center Hill Cemetery where it stands today, an unusual example in both form and wording.[6]

Plain Cemetery Monument
Location: Plain Cemetery, 154 Baptist Corner Road, Ashfield
Coordinates: 42°31’42.8″N 72°47’19.2″W
Date dedicated: 1917
Architect/contractor: Unknown

The second Ashfield Civil War monument, depicting a soldier at parade rest, stands at the entrance to Plain Cemetery. The primary inscription reads, “In Memory of Ashfield Soldiers, 1861-1865.” It was a gift of Samuel Williams a “well-to-do farmer” of the town.[7] Although it is not clear exactly why Williams felt the new monument was necessary, the History of Ashfield indicates the old monument was viewed as a traffic hazard and was possibly in disrepair by that time. The new monument, in addition to providing the town with a memorial of more conventional and recognizable form, also offered the opportunity to include the name of William E. Willis who had been left off the first monument.


[1] Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, tablets and other memorials erected in Massachusetts to commemorate the service of her sons in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865 (Boston: Wright and Potter Printers, 1910), 26.

[2] Springfield Republican, October 1, 1867, 2.

[3] George W. Curtis, quoted in History of the Town of Ashfield, Massachusetts, from its Settlement in 1742 to 1910 (Place of publication not given, published by the town, 1910), vol. 1, 303.

[4] History of the Town of Ashfield, vol. 1,292.

[5] History of the Town of Ashfield, vol. 1, 298.

[6] Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, ASF.907, Ashfield Civil War Veterans Monument and Fountain, https://mhc-macris.net/#!/details?mhcid=ASF.907

[7] History of the Town of Ashfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts, Volume Two (Brattleboro, VT: Vermont Printing Co., 1965), 91.