The Post Office
We have visited the mail system in Ashland before, but it is nice to re-visit on occasion. In today’s world where communication is instantaneous there is less of a need for “snail mail” as it is now referred to. Why sit down and pen something, stick it in an envelope, find a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox when all you have to do is text someone from your iPhone 6 or BlackBerry? And while we are at it, I haven’t seen these devices write in cursive yet. Some much for the personal touch. It wasn’t always this easy as the older folk know, so let’s look back.
The first post office was established in the village of Unionville on January 7, 1835 in a mill store on the northern end of Main Street. I say this because we all know by now, Ashland wasn’t incorporated until 1846. The post office stayed there for 12 years until just after the town’s incorporation when it was moved to G. S. Jones’s store on the corner of Main and Summer Streets. It moved again to the railroad station in 1851 where Mr. Jones acted as railroad agent and postmaster.
By 1864, the department of the post office in Washington classified post offices by annual sales, and Ashland was placed in the fourth class with estimated sales of around $1000.00. Business must have increased by 1875 though, requiring a new location at the corner of Main and Front streets. In 1886 it moved next door to the Coburn building where it operated for the next 35 years until the next move to the Odd Fellows building on the corner of Main and Summer streets. In 1928 the post office was advanced to the second class by Washington requiring more personnel and space. The Odd Fellows building was renovated, and by 1931 the village carrier system was instituted. From its start in 1864 until 1939 the post office had increased business by $25,000.00 annually. A lot of this growth can also be attributed to the Telechron presence in town.
The last move was to where we see it today. In 1940 in conjunction with the Federal Works Agency, a new building was erected on the other corner of Main and Summer streets at a cost of $58,000.00 ($11,000.00 for the land alone). If you visit the post office today, there are pictures of the construction hanging on the wall. According to one source, “The new post office is appropriately situated, carefully planned, and is well equipped.” However, this reference was made in 1942. I’m sure it was all this at the time, but you can make your own assessment as to its validity in 2016. Traffic in downtown Ashland in the 1940’s was certainly a far cry from what it is today. Even if you are fortunate enough to find a parking spot in front of the post office, getting back into traffic against the lights and the trains can be an adventure.
One last project was the painting of the mural inside the post office titled “The Railroad Comes to Town” by Saul Berman. It was painted during the construction, and is located above the Postmaster’s door. Most of the post office murals were painted with funding from the Section of Fine Arts under the U.S. Treasury Dept. and was considered a “New Deal” project. Saul Berman was commissioned to paint this and others but from what I have read, his wife was pregnant at the time and she didn’t consider this to be a sustainable source of income. She told him to get a real job to support the family. He moved to Los Angeles and took up house painting.
Well, at least he still had a brush in his hands.
Sources: History of the Town of Ashland, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1942
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions