Every historical society has an interesting story to tell about their beginnings, locations, founding members, and the like. Ashland is certainly no exception. The title of today’s story is the Wilson Room.
What does a room’s name have to do with the Ashland Historical Society? At first glance, many would think it was named in honor of a prominent figure in Ashland’s past. In essence, this is true, but I would like to preface our discussion with a little history of the Ashland Historical Society itself.
For the most part, historical societies start as a small group of people with a common interest in the preservation of history. Ashland started with the ladies of the Ashland Home Study Club in 1905. They felt that Ashland’s past needed to be “saved.” A committee of three was formed, and the Home Study Club donated the first $2.00 to cover expenses. Abner Greenwood offered a room in his Greenwood Block (Masonic building today on the corner of Front and Concord streets) and they were on their way. The committee soon became the Ashland Historical Society in 1909 with a membership that included both women and men. Along with this newly incorporated group was a quickly growing collection which over the next 80 years would be the cause for a few sleepless nights for the members I’m sure. Where would they go if they can no longer utilize their current space?
It didn’t take long before the Society had to find new quarters. Abner Greenwood wanted to lease the space to a paying tenant and the search was on for a new home. Fortunately, the library was able provide space in the basement due to the efforts of Society President George Higley, who also happened to be the Clerk of the Library Trustees. And there they were able to stay until 1962.
Ashland was growing, and soon the library followed suit. More space was needed for library use, and the Society was told to find a new home. A search committee was formed, and they viewed all the potential properties that were available at the time. The Ashland Hotel was for sale, but deemed too expensive, and the Ocean House, where the Society resides today was also out of reach. They packed up everything from the library and moved the collection to the basement of the Greenwood block.
Time passes on, and by 1965 there was room in the Town Hall. It was large enough to properly display the collection, and to have regular meetings and visitation hours. But, as you probably have guessed by now, the town needed more space. In 1977, the Society moved into the basement of the Town Hall. This also was short lived as the building needed renovations, and the town needed more office space. In 1978 the Society was told to move again. The Fire Dept. offered space, but the collection now contained larger items that exceeded the space available. The smaller items were moved to the room they offered, but almost like the proverbial Chinese Fire Drill, the larger ones were stored in the Greenwood building again.
After one more move back to the Town Hall and a small space in the Pittaway School, a ray of hope finally appeared. A Mr. James Wilson, whose father was an Ashland Selectman and former President of the Ashland Historical Society, left one third of his sizable estate to the Society. The interest on the money was to be used to purchase a permanent “historic” house.
A new search began, and this time there was sufficient funds to make a bona fide offer to purchase. Then President Dick Fannon approached the owners of the Ocean House on Myrtle Street, but first attempts to purchase the property were unsuccessful.
Time again passed, and by 1990 the owners were finally willing to sell. The Ocean House was purchased, modified to accommodate the collection, and a room dedicated to the generosity of Mr. Wilson. As you enter through the side door, and walk into the meeting room, there is a plaque hanging on the wall to the right commemorating the man that made a permanent home possible.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions