Many of our visits to Ashland’s past have involved the various bodies of water within our borders. Whether they are reservoirs, ponds, or rivers, Ashland has its share. We also know from other Stories of Ashland it was not always that way.
Near the turn of the 19th century, Ashland was the unwilling host of multiple water storage basins for the municipal water supply system for the City of Boston. Under an Act by the General Court, the Metropolitan Water Works (MWW, predecessor to the MWRA) took land in Ashland by eminent domain to create Reservoir #2 off Fountain St. and Reservoir #4 in the area of Cold Spring Brook. From the first proposal submitted by the City of Boston in 1872, until the completion of Reservoir #4 in 1884, Ashland would never be the same. Then former Representative Abner Greenwood lamented that “It might have been better and cheaper too, if they just took the whole town and made it into a reservoir.”
That was a distinct possibility, or at least it seemed to be at the time except we had a member of our community committed to our preservation. In 1898, Albert H. Ray succeeded Abner Greenwood as our Representative to the General Court of the Commonwealth. After receiving complaints from the townspeople, as well as his own observations, Albert Ray sponsored a bill to authorize the governing bodies of any community within the Sudbury River watershed to petition the Massachusetts Supreme Court for damages resulting from the land takings, as well as for the loss of tax revenue as a result of the restrictions placed by the Metropolitan Water Works on the use of the Sudbury River.
The bill itself, if passed, should have satisfied the concerns of the citizens, but Albert did not want to take the chance of it failing. Ashland alone lost 640 acres of land to the MWW, and an estimated $125,000.00/year in tax revenue. He knew he faced stiff opposition in Boston. The best way to plead his case was to bring representatives of the various boards involved out to Ashland and he did. Members of Metropolitan Affairs, and Water Supply committees made the trip to Framingham. Along with representatives of all the towns involved, they toured the reservoirs in Framingham, Ashland, Hopkinton, and Southborough. Their arrival in Ashland was close to noon that day, and the reporter for the Ashland Advertiser noted: “What struck the members of the legislature more forcibly was the utter appearance of desertion on the streets, there being scarcely any men seen going to their homes for the midday meal.” The reporter and members also observed, “dismantled factory buildings, empty houses and tenements and general appearance of ruin and decay.”
Ouch. Unless something happened at the state level, our closest neighbors and we were headed down the path of sure destruction. Even our Assessor, Erza Morse, saw “no possibility of new manufactories locating in town, owing to the restrictions that are placed on property by the Metropolitan water people.” It was clear this bill had to pass.
Now on to the Ways and Means Committee public hearings. As anticipated, the bill met opposition. The Attorney General and the Chief Engineer of the MWW were against its passage. Albert Ray appeared before the committee and after many hours of testimony finally convinced them that compensation was warranted. Ashland eventually settled for an annual payment of $2,200.00. It was an uphill battle, but we had won. Governor Wolcott signed the bill and gave the pen to Albert Ray.
Obviously, the Town was elated. Upon his return from the State House, the townspeople held a grand reception at the Town Hall and presented Albert Ray with a diamond ring with the inscription “To A.H. Ray from the citizens of Ashland, 1899.” Ray wore the ring proudly until his death in 1925, but the story did not end there. Albert was close friends with Postmaster John Connelly. John named his son Albert Ray Connelly and the ring was given to him after Ray died. Albert Ray Connelly eventually passed on, leaving the ring to his daughter Mrs. Graff. She felt that the ring was a part of Ashland’s history and decided to donate it to the collection of the Ashland Historical Society. A plaque commemorating the event in 1899 is on display in the Wilson Room of the Ocean House. According to Ashland Historical Society President Cliff Wilson, it was hanging in Whittemore’s Drug Store (later to become Hunt and Denver’s).
Thanks to Kay Powers for her piece “The Ring” appearing in Directions January 1999
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions