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Teenager produces history of Franklin, his hometown

Eamon McCarthy Earls, a 2012 graduate of Franklin High School and freshman at UMass Amherst, has written a new history of Franklin.

Karen McCarthy

Eamon McCarthy Earls, a 2012 graduate of Franklin High School and freshman at UMass Amherst, has written a new history of Franklin.

During his senior year at Franklin High, Eamon McCarthy Earls was taking Advanced Placement classes, working as a sales clerk at Market Basket, participating on the school’s mock trial and track teams, and trying to stay involved with his friends.

Oh, and he was writing a book — his third.

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While there were times he was overwhelmed, Earls said, “in the end it does definitely pay off.”

Earls, 18, spent hundreds of hours researching his town and interviewing longtime residents to compile “Franklin: From Puritan Precinct to 21st Century ‘Edge City,’” a local history book released this month through Via Appia Press. 

“I knew a few interesting stories and factoids, but I didn’t know how it got started,” said Earls, who was born and raised in Franklin. “I was curious and I figured other people would be too.”  

While a few histories of the now-booming suburb have been written since it was incorporated in 1778, Earls said, most leave out a lot of details about Franklin’s beginnings and agricultural history.

“I try to be pretty inclusive of all of it,” the University of Massachusetts Amherst freshman said. “I really try to make it a story that people can follow, and see where all the pieces come in.”  

‘I knew a few interesting stories and factoids, but I didn’t know how it got started. I was curious and I figured other people would be too.’

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To find those pieces, Earls spent a lot of time at the Franklin Public Library, poring over microfilm copies of the Franklin Sentinel, the town’s newspaper from 1883 to 1978, which provided “unusual, slice-of-life stories.” He also looked at town records and documents from the town’s Historical Commission.

He came across some interesting anecdotes, including a brief gold rush in the 1890s in a woman’s backyard, and how in 1919 four anarchists accidentally blew themselves up while trying to destroy the American Woolen Mill, which is now an apartment complex.

“Local history is always interesting because it gives the local perspective on the global events,” Earls said.

But to get the personal stories, he just had to look around him.

“I ended up contacting people I knew as neighbors, family, and friends,” he said. One such couple was Howard and Sandy Crawford, longtime residents and “very unique people” who have one of the few farms still operating in Franklin, Earls said.

Franklin: From Puritan Precinct to 21st Century ‘Edge City’ by Eamon McCarthy Earls. Published by viaappiapress.com

Postcard of Central Street, Franklin, circa 1900. The Morse Opera House is on the right.

When Interstate 495 was built through Franklin in 1965, the town began to change. Developers now had easy access to acres upon acres of farmland on which to build, and eventually created an “edge city,” the term for a rural area that becomes concentrated with businesses, shopping, and entertainment venues.

The latest comprehensive history of the town was written in 1978 by James C. Johnston Jr., a former Franklin teacher and president of the Franklin Historical Society.

Vicki Buchanio, a reference librarian who helped Earls examine the Franklin library’s microfilm records and other resources, said the teen had the opportunity to put together a different level of the town’s history than previous writers.

“As things have surfaced, documents and history . . . I have a feeling he had access to a lot of really cool stuff,” she said. In particular, the diaries of George Wadsworth were discovered at a yard sale in 1991 and donated to the library, offering Earls a window into daily life in Franklin in the 19th century.

Robert Percy, who serves as the clerk of the town’s Historical Commission, said that instead of focusing on leaders, dates, and cataclysmic events, as traditional histories are wont to do, Earls’ book tells the other side of the story, that of the townspeople.

“It’s really inspiring for somebody to have that kind of insight and compassion for the stories he’s retelling,” said Percy.

He and his wife moved to Franklin in 1991, Percy said, and an updated town history is important for residents, particularly newcomers, to understand the now-bustling town’s roots.

“Anything that could tie the present day back to Franklin’s history is helpful,” he said, adding that the Historical Commission has already discussed asking Earls to give a presentation on his book early next year.

Earls’ previous history book, “Wachusett: How Boston’s 19th-Century Quest for Water Changed Four Towns and a Way of Life,” was written when he was a sophomore in high school and serving as an associate member of the Historical Commission. He said that process helped pave the way for “Franklin,” though it took much longer.

“I had no idea what I was doing when I starting writing ‘Wachusett,’ ” Earls said, even after penning a historical-fiction mystery, “Kearns on the Double,’’ for his debut effort, published in 2009 during his sophomore year.

Equipped with more experience, the UMass geology and history double-major said he is thinking about future writing projects, but would like to branch out to other genres, including fiction.

A paperback version of “Franklin: From Puritan Precinct to 21st Century ‘Edge City’ ’’ is available for purchase online at www.viaappiapress.com .

Laura Franzini can be reached at laura.franzini@globe.com . Follow her on Twitter at LauraFranzini.
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