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Ashland Historical Society

"Preserving the Past"
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Leon Davis

 

I was sorting through the volumes of Ashland Directions when I ran across an article by Kay Powers from 1998. It was about a former Curator of the Ashland Historical Society that was overlooked in a previous Stories of Ashland that listed all the former Curators.

 

Leon Warren Davis was not born in Ashland, but spent the majority of his life here. Born in Boston on November 23, 1866, Leon was the son of Joseph and Betsy Davis. Leon’s mother was the former Betsy Warren who lived on Cordaville Road in the old Bigelow Mill house that still stands, near Oak Street.

 

Leon’s family moved to Ashland from Boston about the time Leon was born. They bought the second Frankland mansion on Franklin Road that was built by Elias Nason after the first house burned in 1850. We know this property as the former home of Sir Harry Franklin. The building that exits today is actually the third structure for that property, but we will cover that in a minute.

 

Leon’s father later bought the Charles Alden house on Railroad Street (Homer Avenue today) and moved his family along with Leon’s brother Bertram and his new wife Anna. The house no longer exists, but was used as the offices for the Telechron Company prior to the building of the Ashland Technology Center that we see today.

 

The family moved again to a home on Main Street near Summer Street. On February 26, 1902, the second Franklin mansion burned to the ground. Leon was on the Ashland Volunteer Fire Department at the time and they tried to save the house. Within two hours the mansion was gone along with valuable furnishings and some of Sir Harry Franklin’s clothing that was saved from the first fire. All was not lost though. It was reported that they saved the barn and the foundation.

 

Moving forward, Leon was active it town government. In 1911 he was elected to the School Committee where he served in various capacities for the next 40 years. He also served as Fence Viewer, Burial Agent, W.P.A. Supervisor, Measurer of Wood and Bark, Trustee of Wildwood Cemetery, Planning Board, as well as a volunteer for the fire department. He was twice elected as Selectman in 1918 and 1925. A pretty busy guy.

 

Just before WWI, Leon married Margaret Christine Houghton, daughter of Benjaman and Mary Valentine Jones Houghton. Sadly, the couple had two children that died at birth, along with Margaret with the second one. She was buried in late Novermber, 1916 in Wildwood just two years after their marriage with their wedding ushers and groomsmen serving as pall bearers.

 

After the war, Leon married Bessy Dodge on March 22, 1919. They lived on the top of High Street. After Leon’s passing she lived there with her niece, Charlotte Davis and her friend Betty Dodge. During that time, Leon owned Ashland Hardware which used to be located on the corner of Main and Front Street. That building no longer exists, but the Santander Bank is there today.

 

Leon’s interest in history brought him to the Ashland Historical Society. By 1943, he was elected Clerk and Curator. At the time, the Society was housed in the Ashland Library. Leon was responsible for the collection that was displayed in a remodeled room that was open to the public on Wednesdays and it was well viewed. Records show there were 236 visitors from 1944 to 1945.

 

Leon followed in the footsteps of Society members Frank and Fannie Metcalf. The Metcalfs had donated furniture and all of Frank’s papers on the history of Ashland. Handling the enormity of the collection was almost a full-time job. Leon survived though, and even found time to research and pen his own collection. A lot of it was unsigned, but his distinctive handwriting made it easier to recognize.

 

By 1950 Leon was 84 years old. He resigned as Curator, but still held a position on the Planning Board. On April 3, 1953, he passed away. His father was once described as a “typical New Englander noted for his sterling integrity, his word being as sufficient as his bond, and his geniality, ever present.”  The same could certainly be said of Leon.

 

It was noted that there was no obituary for Leon in the files of the Historical Society.

 

Leon was the one that kept them.

 

Source: Kay Powers, “The Missing Man”, Ashland Directions, 1998.

 

Steve Leacu for Directions

June 2016