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Ashland Historical Society

"Preserving the Past"
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The Granite Water Fountain

 

Looking around town there are a lot of visual links to Ashland’s past. Most of them are in the form of buildings or parks like John Stones’ Inn, the Shepard house, Stone Park, and the like but there is one that was a little less stationary.

At the turn of the 19th century Ashland was changing along with the times. A mere 54 years old, the town had electric power, horses were being replaced by automobiles, and a continued investigation into a public water system was in the works. I say “continued” because the Town first began looking into it as early as 1875. Anyway, after the article failed at town meeting a number of times, the taxpayers were finally convinced in 1906 to provide a safe and reliable water system. Most of the push came from the Fire Department after a series of fires downtown proved costly. Even with Town Meeting approval it wasn’t until 1910 that the town started laying pipe.

Having a municipal water system now provided new opportunities, and one of them came in the form of a public water fountain and horse trough. The wife of the local blacksmith, Mrs. Harvey Piper, thought it would be nice to have a water fountain downtown.  It was said that she saw the Whiting Memorial Fountain in Framingham and thought Ashland should have one too.  Being a resourceful lady, Mrs. Piper knew she needed a plan. First of all, what would the fountain look like, and second, how are we going to pay for it? It was decided that the fountain should be something that would stand the test of time. After organizing a fund drive that netted $424.38, she hired the firm of Logan and Judges of Milford to make the fountain and trough. Not of wood or other materials, but from a single block of Milford Pink Granite. It would be 4 feet - 6 inches tall with a 5 foot basin, and have a “bubbler” on the back for human consumption. Think about the weight of a single cinder block and try to imagine how much this weighed. A whopping 7 tons! It took a 6-horse wagon to bring it to Ashland.

Now where to put it? We have a photo at the Historical Society of the original location placing the fountain across the street from what today is the Ashland Public Market. The official acceptance of the fountain and trough was January 12, 1912. The Selectmen praised Mrs. Piper for all her efforts and extended to her “the sincere appreciation which is felt by one and all for this beautiful and humane gift which has been made possible by her zealous and unselfish efforts.”

Also in the old photo, the streets were not paved, the current Post office didn’t exist, and the block of stores where Eber’s Pharmacy used to be were yet to be built. Gordon A. Green and Richard T. Murphy Squares were not built and dedicated until some 8 years later, leaving the fountain free-standing on Main Street. This leads me to the “less stationary” part of this visual link to Ashland’s past. As the town grew, a lot of changes were made to downtown which included the paving of the streets, and the addition of the squares and sidewalks. All of these improvements really didn’t affect the location of the fountain until the town redesigned the traffic flow through downtown. The traffic islands on Main Street were widened, all of the diagonal parking was removed in front of Eber’s, and all those traffic signs were added. Remember Ashland being referred to as a sign farm?  I think some were conveniently not replaced after the sidewalk plows hit them, but I’m sure that’s another story. At any rate, the fountain was in the way and had to be moved. It made its way to Stone Park for a short period, and then to its present location in the middle of Montenegro Square directly across from the library. The fountain and trough are no longer functioning under their original purposes, but they make a nice planter.

There is another piece to the story that Kay Powers mentioned in her Stories of Ashland article in 1990. There was a brass plaque mounted on the left side of the fountain that no longer exists. The text of the plaque seems to be somewhat of a mystery. Anyone remember what it said?

 

As always, many thanks to Kay Powers for her research for this article.

 

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions

October 2011