Monday, February 12, 2007

A Question of Boundaries Part III Fall River a City, Fall River a Town

In 1844 a joint commission was appointed, made up of 3 members from each state, to establish the true boundary between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Although the commission was able to reach a majority decision and issue a report to the Massachusetts legislature in 1848 a committee from Fall River stepped forward and petitioned the legislature not to except the findings.

With the Massachusetts legislature refusing to ratify the decision of her commissioners, both states filed bills of equity in 1852 sending the argument back to the U.S. Supreme Court, both states agreeing to abide by whatever decision the Court should reach.

For Fall River the issue wasn't just one of boundaries but also one of identity for even a century after the village was divided the residents of the northern part of Tiverton, Rhode Island still felt closely aligned with the Massachusetts town they were once part of. By 1852 Fall River was gaining prominence in the textile industry. The town was growing rapidly; even a devastating fire that consumed the heart of downtown in 1843 did little to slow its growth. In 1854, with over 12,000 residents, Fall River had grown so large that it was deemed necessary to apply for a city charter, which was granted by the legislature and adopted at town meeting in April of that year. Tiverton was also dealing with rapid growth. The northern part of town was becoming more built up than the southern part and required more expenditures for infrastructure. Those in the southern part of town felt they faced an unfair tax burden to help maintain the great build up of the north. Also there was sentiment by those in the “Globe” section that they should be separated from the parent town. In May of 1856 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed an act dividing the town of Tiverton. The northern part, from present day State Avenue to the Massachusetts border, became the town of Fall River, Rhode Island.

Naming the town Fall River, RI while clearly demonstrating its close ties to Fall River, MA proved to be something of a headache. Confusion constantly arose of the blurred boundaries and one can assume that persons visiting "Fall River" never quite new which Fall River they were in! Thankfully, such confusion was short lived as the U.S. Supreme Court reached was about to issue as decision.

In 1861 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decree that settled the boundary question once and for all. After reviewing the matter the Court decided not to grant to grant the full claim of either state. The Court further did not attempt to set the boundary in accordance with King's decision. Instead the Court set the boundary in a manner to avoid dividing densely populated areas such as Fall River and Pawtucket. The Court's decision which was to take effect on March 1, 1862 would unite both Fall Rivers and add some additional lands to Westport. In all 11sq. miles formerly under the jurisdiction of Rhode Island would become part of Massachusetts. Rhode Island would gain what is today the eastern part of Pawtucket, that land that is east of the Blackstone River, as well as East Providence.

With 200 year old boundary issue finally resolved that leaves just one question, who got the better deal?

Back to Part I
Back to Part II
On to Part IV
Visit the The Rhode Islander for a more detailed from the Ocean State perspective.

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