Every September, Ashland holds a community day called Ashland Day. It is a day where townsfolk can meet each other and enjoy all the finest that living in New England has to offer. There are food concessions, parades (well, most of the time), information booths, music, games, raffles, and a stage at the gazebo for recognizing the people that contribute to making Ashland a premier town. For a lot of people it seems like a relatively new event. But is it?
First let’s go back about a hundred years or so. Better still, the turn of the 19th Century. Ashland was only 54 years old when the Village Improvement Committee was formed in 1900 by the Ashland Home Study Club. Their goal was to raise money to improve the aesthetics of Ashland by cleaning up the downtown area. Through rummage sales and other fund raising events they were able to raise enough money to clean the roadways, trim the grassy areas, and plant flowers. They asked the Boston and Albany railroad to improve the railroad station and surrounding areas, but were not met with the enthusiasm they were hoping for. They cleaned along the tracks anyway.
Trash and debris along the roadways was commonplace back then. Barrels were placed in various locations to try to contain the problem, and the selectmen began enforcing a “No Dumping” ordinance. Crooked light poles were replaced with straight ones, much to the dismay of some of the residents. They saw no need for such wasteful extravagance, but then again it is all for aesthetics.
With all this improvement, it was decided that the town should have a day to show each other, and the surrounding communities, the pride it has for our little piece of paradise. A Field Day would be a great idea, but where will it be held?
As luck would have it, Col. Charles Homer offered the town a fairly large piece of land on Summer Street near downtown. At a special town meeting on August 14th, 1907, the town accepted the offer. It was to be named Stone Park after Homer’s uncle, Napoleon Stone. This would be a perfect place for Ashland’s first Field Day, and it was held on September 7th, 1908. Much like our Ashland Day today, it was a success financially, and boosted the spirit of the residents. The following year hosted a society circus (not sure what that is), street parade, dinner at the park, and a dance at Town Hall. They raised $150.00. Each year the festivities improved. Concession stands were added, sporting events were held, even a cattle show. All this was for the improvement of the park and surrounding areas. Ball fields were added, along with park benches, shrubs and trees. Pretty much what you see there today.
They also had their less than optimum years too. In 1912, the Field Day had to be held at Town Hall due to rain, but 200 people attended anyway including a dinner and dance in the big hall upstairs.
As the years progressed, so did the events. By 1916, the Field Day hosted two bands, two ball games, a Boy Scout exhibit and a vaudeville show. Edward Lewis won first prize for his artfully decorated milk wagon, and Ashland Fire’s Combination Co. 1 was represented by a horse cart drawn by a goat.
That was said to be the peak of the celebration, but as we all know, life is cyclic. 1918 brought on the war, and the Field Day was cancelled. In 1919, the Village Improvement Committee became a separate entity named the Village Improvement Association. Now no longer part of the Home Study Club, men were allowed as members. New officers were elected and the work continued. 1924 was a busy Field Day with the usual compliment of bands, sporting events, and games. September 25th, 1925 was rained out, moving the event to the following Saturday. It was an ideal day this time and local names still familiar to us today like Tony Cunis and Walter Schouler won prizes for 100-yard dashes and 3-legged races.
1926 was another year for inclement weather forcing the cancellation of all outdoor activities. A clambake for 150 people was moved to hall of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic), and a movie was shown at Town Hall. The last meeting of the committee was held in 1928, but there was no Field Day that year. The local paper commented that “Evidently Ashland is to have no Labor Day celebration of any kind this year.” The committee appears to have vanished after that, and along with it Ashland’s Field Day, until the ’80s. Now it’s Ashland Day. Life is truly a cycle, but I hope we can stay on top of it for a while!
Sources: Ashland Advertiser, Ashland Historical Society, and Kay Powers.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions