Where’s Unionville? Well, if you are a home recipient of the Directions you are probably sitting within its boundaries right now. Unionville became Ashland when the town was incorporated in 1846. More on that in a minute, but let’s look at the composition of Unionville. The village was equal parts of Framingham and Hopkinton, and 20% Holliston, give or take a percentage point or two. The center was an equal distance from both Framingham and Hopkinton, and 5 miles from Holliston.
The Sudbury River played a important role in the development of Unionville. As with many communities, mills were built along a waterway. One of those was a mill built by Colonel John Jones sometime after 1725 and according to W.F. Ellis’s book “History of Middlesex County,” Jones’s mill appeared to be the focal point of the village in early times. He writes, “… the grist mill and fulling (cloth processing) mill built by Colonel John Jones, which deserve more attention than the rest, for about this spot cluster the early enterprises which developed into a village and a town.”
As the years passed, and the community continued to expand with new businesses, Capt. Jones’ property was sold to the Middlesex Manufacturing Company in 1811. Due to the war of 1812, the factory to be built was not completed until 1815. Being a factory for the manufacture of cloth, and the cotton gin not yet in general use, the venture failed, and the property was sold for $15,000.00 to the Middlesex Union Factory Company in 1827. Mr. James Jackson, who was associated with the failed company, became agent for the new one. A bright and resourceful man, Jackson eventually purchased enough shares to own the company. He sold the factory in 1852, and it was destroyed by fire 1854. Jackson is important because he was the first representative to the legislature for the area towns, and along with the Deacon Calvin Shepard, Jr. were the framers of the petition that would eventually result in the formation of the Town of Ashland.
Rivers and mills were important to a growing community, but Unionville had something else. In 1831, the Boston and Worcester Railroad (later to become the Boston and Albany) was created, and by 1834 the rails were laid as far west as Unionville. One of the area’s more noteworthy individuals was Capt. John Stone. Stone owned property next to the railroad and erected an inn at the site. At the official opening of the rail service, Hon. Calvin Shepard, Jr. received the president and directors of the railroad with an opening speech on the upper balcony of the Inn. The masses assembled were also addressed by Governor John Davis and former Governor Levi Lincoln. Military companies were present and offered an artillery salute upon the arrival of the train.
Now having a train running through their property, John Stone and neighbors James Jackson and Michael Homer knew their farmland was much more valuable as building lots. They parceled off smaller lots and new businesses soon appeared. Among them was the first Post Office in 1835 with Matthew Metcalf, Esq. as the first postmaster.
Ok, back to the incorporation of the town and why Ashland is not Unionville. Not everyone in the surrounding towns was in favor of the creation of a new town. In fact, it took three petitions to the legislature before it was successful. The third petition, drafted by Calvin Shepard, Jr. and signed by James Jackson and 209 others was offered for consideration. While there appeared to be general support for this petition, the biggest hurdle was the matter of pauper support. Holliston’s poorhouse was located within the borders of the new town, and Holliston continued to object. Specific language had to be written into the petition that would free Holliston from any tax obligation as long as they maintained the property as a poorhouse. Other sections dealt with taxes assessed and owed to the surrounding towns, as well as compensation ($600.00) for its portion of Hopkinton’s town debt.
Now the name change. Depending upon which source you use, the name change was proposed by either James Jackson, or Calvin Shepard Jr. “The History of the Town of Ashland,” a collaboration of the Work Projects Administration of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Town of Ashland, claims it was James Jackson, and “History of Middlesex County,” says it’s Calvin Shepard, Jr. At any rate, whoever it was, was an “ardent admirer” of the great Senator Henry Clay. In honor of Clay, the petition was changed at the last minute to name the new town Ashland after Clay’s home in Lexington, Kentucky (Clay’s home was called Ashland for the abundance of Ash trees on the property). A copy of the petition at the Historical Society actually shows the name Unionville crossed out, and the name Ashland penned in above it everywhere it appeared on the document.
So there you have it. The petition was approved by the General Court, and the statute incorporating the town was signed by Governor George N. Briggs effective March 16, 1846. Not surprising, Calvin Shepard, Jr. became one of the town’s first selectmen, serving with Andrew Allard, Joseph Burnham, Albert Ellis, and Dexter Rockwood.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions