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Local historian Barry Emery, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, holds forth about the history of the half-ton cheese that was presented to the president in 1802.
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John Tremblay speaks about the cheese wheel project before it was unveiled.
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The cheese wheel sculpture sits at the intersection of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail with Church Street.

Cheshire Unveils New Monument to the 'Big Cheese'

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Correspondent
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The cheese wheel was created by local artist Brent Whitney through a Mass Cultural Council grant. 

CHESHIRE, Mass. — There's no mistaking that Cheshire's the big cheese. 

A replica of the giant wheel of cheese made by Cheshire residents in the early 1800s was unveiled by the Cheshire Community Association on Tuesday beside the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail.

The front of the sculpture contains information on the original cheese wheel, including its weight and the date it was presented to President Thomas Jefferson (Jan. 1, 1802). On the back, the wheel reads, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

According to town historian Barry Emery and Cheshire Community Association head John Tremblay, the 1,235-pound block of cheese was commissioned by Elder John Leland immediately after the election of 1800. According to Tremblay, Cheshire was the only town in Berkshire County to have voted for Jefferson; the rest went for Massachusetts' own John Adams.

In fact, Tremblay reported that Jefferson received every single vote but one in Cheshire. That vote, apparently, was seen as a mistake, and thus cast aside in the final tally.

The original block of cheese was so large that it took over a month to get to Washington, D.C. Emery said this event was the one for which Cheshire is most famous. Indeed, the subtitle of Emery's book on the subject is "When America Watched Cheshire." Jefferson reportedly paid $200 for the block of cheese, refusing to accept it as a gift. Emery reported that Jefferson recorded the transaction in his personal account book.

Tremblay said the project was "in honor of our forefathers," specifically Jefferson and Leland, who has a memorial next to a replica of the cheese press (with Leland's image) not far from the new cheese sculpture.

Local artist Brent Whitney created the sculpture. It took about eight months, on and off, to create. Tremblay applauded Whitney for his effort, saying he has a "similar passion that our forefathers had."

The cheese wheel is part of the Art on the Trail initiative, a set of sculptures set off the side of the rail trail on Church Street in Cheshire. It was funded by a Mass Cultural Council grant, part of an effort to increase art displays throughout the state. The other sculptures are silhouettes of a hiker, a biker, and a runner, which represents the convergence of the rail trail with the Appalachian Trail.

Tremblay talked up this latter point, saying this "convergence" of the Appalachian Trail and the rail trail could provide some "energy" for Cheshire. He said this display of art, along with the Appalachian Trail camp across the street, could serve as a "catalyst for economic development" for the downtown area.

Tags: Ashuwillticook Rail Trail,   cheshire cheese,   

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Cheshire Select Board Discusses CARES Act Funding

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Correspondent

CHESHIRE, Mass.—The Selectmen on Tuesday discussed CARES Act spending with Town Accountant Lynne Lemanski.

The town has "requested almost up to the limit of what [Cheshire is] eligible for," Lemanski said. She noted that the town is eligible for $277,199 and it has requested $276,828 thus far. Cheshire must request the remaining funds and spend them before the end of the year or return them to the state government.

Cheshire has left unspent close to $110,000, and the Selectmen brainstormed ideas about where to spend the remaining money.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding is limited to certain types of expenditures, including public health infrastructure and unemployment for municipal workers. In keeping with these restrictions, Selectman Ray Killeen suggested buying some portable pump-operated hand-washing or sanitizing stations.

Noting that Cheshire is opening up and have more events, Killeen said it would be beneficial "to have six or seven [stations] on hand so as people mingle, they have the ability to sanitize [their] hands."

Selectman Jason Levesque noted that the Appalachian Trail campsite on Church Street could use this for the through hikers to wash their hands.

Selectman Shawn McGrath wondered if personal protective equipment (PPE) "can be purchased [by the town] up front in case there's a spike" in COVID-19 cases in the future.

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