It is a local tradition across America to name buildings after people who have made a difference in our way of life, and Ashland is no different. In our community, the elementary schools that were originally named after the streets they were built on changed their names to honor prominent citizens like Henry Warren, David Mindess, and William Pittaway. Growing up in Ashland I knew the schools as the Fruit St. School, Concord St. School, and the Central St. School. To this day I have to think about which one is which when someone says he or she was at “Pittaway today.” I’m sure I’ll get it straight one of these days.
Anyway, today I want to visit William Pittaway. I am old enough to remember Mr. Pittaway (no one called him Will, or Bill, or William), and even at his advanced age he still substituted for an ailing teacher. He was a regular at Ashland Hardware where I was working. He shopped for garden tools and fertilizer, or an occasional nut, bolt, or screw. At the time he was in his late 80’s and still very articulate. It was your fault if you didn’t learn something from him during his visit.
William Pittaway was born in Ironbridge, Shropshire, England on November 6, 1886. His early education was in both American and English schools. Maxine Rosen interviewed Mr. Pittaway for an article in Directions back in 1978, where he recounted his youth, citing some of the differences in education then and now. One example was the alphabet. Students were required to learn it forwards and backwards. If they failed in this exercise, they were instructed to stand up on their stools and wait for a rap on the hands by the teacher’s ruler. Guess we have come a long way.
Mr. Pittaway attended Boston University, and upon graduation in 1914 fought for England in WWI. His war service brought him to the Suez Canal and Gibraltar as a “gunner” for the British army. After returning from service, he became the Submaster at North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Maine. He served as a lecturer, and coached hockey and baseball. His slight 135 pound frame, however, precluded any football activity.
Moving on, he later became principal at Ashland High School in 1919 where he taught physics, chemistry, and mathematics. This is where he met his wife, the former Ada Pitman, who was principal of the 7th and 8th grades. She was a graduate of the Framingham Normal School, which today is Framingham State University.
After many years working together, Mr. and Mrs. Pittaway retired to their home on Clyde Rd. in Ashland. They never truly stopped working where they tutored homebound children, substituted when needed, and volunteered for many groups in the area. Mr. Pittaway was also an apprentice to a jeweler in Boston in his younger years and learned to repair clocks. His hobby was to rebuild older timepieces as seen in the accompanying photo. The Pittaways had a passion for music too. He played the violin, mandolin, and banjo. She played the piano.
At the time of Maxine’s article in 1978, Mr. Pittaway was 92 years old and in good health, taking walks every day and working in the garden. The school built in 1929 on Central St. was renamed in his honor at a dedication ceremony on May 8, 1974. Two years later, his wife passed away in 1976 at the age of 73. Mr. Pittaway died at the golden age of 98 in 1984, 6 years after the article was written.
Sources: Maxine Rosen, Ashland Directions, December, 1978.
Wicked Local.com, Nov. 16, 2012.
Ashland Historical Society
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions