Franklin is a progressive and pleasant town lying in the southwest part of Norfolk County, 27 miles southwest of Boston by the New York and New England Railroad, whose main line passes through the midst of the town, while its Woonsocket Division has a station at the northwest corner. The town is bounded on the north by Medway, on the east by Norfolk and Wrentham, on the south by the latter, and on the west by Bellingham.
The assessed area is 15,629 acres. Of this 4,616 are covered mainly with a growth of oak and pine. The principal rock is sienite, in which fine specimens of amethyst have been found. The soil varies in different parts from a light sandy or gravelly loam to a good heavy loam. The town is elevated, with a hilly region bounding it on the south, and groups of hills extending from the western side across the middle of the town. Near the centre are three interesting sheets of water,— Uncas Pond, of 17 acres, Beaver, of 20, and Population Pond, of 300. Mine Brook, their outlet, and Shepherd Brook, in the eastern part of the town, discharge into the Charles River which forms the northern boundary line; both furnishing power for various manufactories.
The largest of these are a rubber factory, two woollen mills, three straw and felt hat and bonnet factories. Altogether, these employ about 1,000 persons. There are two lumber mills, wooden box, boot and shoe, carriage, machine, beet sugar and other small factories. The product of textile fabrics in 1885 was $304,720; of straw goods and other clothing, $610,450; of food preparations, $71,913. The aggregate value of the various goods made was $1,278,467. The 182 farms, in the same period, produced to the value of $165,371. The wood product ($18,568) and the vegetables ($20,746) were items which exceed the usual proportion. There is a national bank with a capital stock of $200,000; and the "Benjamin Franklin Savings Bank" deposits at the close of last year amounted to $330,241. The valuation in 1888 was $2,154,900, with a tax-rate of $15 on $1,000.
The population was 3,983, including 906 voters. The number of houses was 752. The villages are Franklin, South Franklin and Unionville, which are the post-offices; another is North Franklin, closely joined to Medway Village; while Wadsworth's is the railway station near South Franklin, and City Mills the station on the town's eastern line. The central village contains many beautiful private residences, several churches, Dean Academy, and the high school and bank buildings. The common is an attractive feature; while the streets of this and other villages have numerous shade trees, chiefly rock maples; many of which are of 40 years' growth.
The public schools are completely graded, and occupy eleven buildings valued at nearly $30,000. The Dean Academy was founded in 1865 by the munificence of Oliver Dean, M.D., who gave a valuable site and $135,000 in cash, for the establishment of the institution. By his will, the additional sum of $110,000 is left to be expended for school purposes; and it is supposed that the institution will receive nearly as much more from his estate. The first building was burned July 31, 1872; but another, still more beautiful and commodious, has been erected, at an expense of $150,000. It is in the care of the Universalist denomination.
The weekly papers of the town are the "Opinion" and the "Sentinel." The Morse Opera House, Metcalf Block and Ray's Block, are recent and handsome structures. The Universalist church (rebuilt in 1887) is a fine edifice. The other churches are the two Congregationalist, the Baptist, the Methodist and the Roman Catholic.
Franklin has a memorial of King Philip's War, of which the tradition says that, in 1676, a party of about 42 Indians were surprised by Captain Ware and a company of 13 men from Wrentham. In their alarm and confusion the savages fled, and some of them, while scrambling down a rocky precipice, were overtaken and slain. The ledge bears the name "Indian Rock."
A church was organized here February 16, 1737; and the Rev., Elias Haven, from Hopkinton, was ordained pastor. He died in 1754, and was followed by the Rev. Caleb Barnum; who, in 1773, was succeeded by the Rev. Nathaniel Emmons, D.D. He continued in the pastorate fifty-four years. He was ordained in a valley, in the open air, the people standing around and above him; therefore he was wont wittily to remark that he was ordained under instead of over his people.
The town was incorporated March 2, 1778. When Dr. Franklin was informed that it was to bear his name, and that the people might be glad to receive a bell to call them to church, he said that he presumed they "were more fond of sense than sound;" and he therefore sent them a well-selected library of about 500 volumes, which is still preserved. The Franklin Library Association now has an excellent library of about 3,000 volumes.
This town has produced several men of eminence: as Theron Metcalf, born October 16, 1784, an able jurist; Alexander Metcalf Fisher, born 1794, and died April 22, 1823, a noted mathematician and scientist; Horace Mann, LL.D., born May 4, 1796, and died August 2, 1859, a distinguished educationist; William Makepeace Thayer, D.D., born in 1820, author, editor, and divine; and Albert Deane Richardson, born 1833, and died November 26, 1869, a journalist and author. Rev. William M. Thayer, the author of many interesting books for boys, is a resident of Franklin.
pp. 317-320 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890