Stores of Yesteryear
It’s fun to look at old buildings in town and wonder about their origins. I look at Lunker’s next to the downtown fire station and remember Bean’s and the Ashland News Store. Others remember the old Hunt and Denver or maybe Ozzie’s Market depending upon your age. A lot of these buildings still exist, and a lot have burned to the ground or razed in the interest of modernization.
G.T. Higley was an historical writer in the late 1800’s who recorded the events, people, and places of Massachusetts in exhaustive detail. A sure cure for insomniacs, Higley’s writings were often pretty dry. Today’s visit will include his view of Unionville, later to become Ashland, during the 19th century.
“Many of the early stores were general – that is, dry goods, groceries, crockery and furniture were kept for sale in them. The first in the order of time kept in the village was the store which stood at the east end of the cotton factory. This was opened by Homer Tilton, about the time the factory was built. A Mr. Barton followed Tilton, who, in turn, was followed by William Jennison. Jennison was in occupancy at the time when the town was set off. Soon after he moved into his own store, of which mention will be made below (his reference to Jennison’s new store I will also mention below). George W. Fairbanks was the last occupant of this store, which was closed about 1855.”
Dry, but informative. Higley next focused upon one of my first recollections. The brick building that was home to Bean’s and the Ashland News Store.
“In 1841 W. W. Wiggins moved into the brick building later owned by J. N. West, occupying the first floor for a store, and the second for a boot shop. In early times the second story of this building was entered by an outside stairway at the east end, and was occupied for offices when not in use for other purposes. Wiggins continued to carry on the business of a general store at this place until about 1850, when he put up a large frame building standing on the north side of Front Street at the corner of Concord.”
Wiggins moved into the new building and ran a general store there for two or three years. He sold the business to others and moved out West. He returned in 1860 and regained possession of the building and business until 1876 when he sold it again to E. S. Thayer & Company. He stayed on as manager until his health started to fail, and eventually the store was closed.
William Jennison, however, was active during this time. He bought land from the Unionville Evangelical Society in 1845 and built the “Brick Store” on Main Street (the yellow house across from the Town Hall). He also built a house across the street for his family. He kept a general store until 1851. Upon his death his sons, William and Albert took over the business and ran it for a couple of years. They eventually sold out and moved to New York.
Now, enter George Tilton. He sold various goods from about 1860 to 1887. Starting in Woodbury’s building with a stock of drugs, he moved into the Brick Store which he bought in 1862. He added groceries to his product offering and sold the business to W. A. Tilton and E. F. Greenwood in 1867. About this time he built two small buildings to the east of the Brick Store which he eventually moved to Alden Street. He called them the Gothic Arcade.
“William A. Tilton, beginning as an apothecary in the Brick Store, afterwards erected on leased land the small building at the east of the Central House, which he occupied in this business for six years. He then sold to E. T. Billings who has continued as proprietor to the present time. The building is now owned by George E. Whittemore.”
Keep in mind this was written in 1890. The building he mentions eventually became Hunt and Denver’s. Today none of these buildings exist. The Central House is gone and Hunt and Denver was where the Santander Bank is presently located. The only building visible today is the yellow Brick Store which was owned by the Beaudoin family for many years.
The key to longevity seems to be the building materials. Anything brick, even buildings built with “Ashland brick” seems to pass the test of time for the obvious reason. Fire has been the demise of many of Ashland’s downtown structures. The Central House, and the I.O.O.F. building where Main Street Wine and Liquors is today to name a few. But a few wooded framed buildings still exist. The Town Hall, John Stone’s and the Federated Church, along with the Ocean House are pleasant reminders of our past.
Kay Powers, Ashland Directions, October, 1979
G. T. Higley, History of Middlesex County, 1890
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions