An Alternate Ashland

One of my favorite late 90s TV shows was “Sliders.” It was based upon a group of space/time travelers who collectively jumped into a “worm hole” only to land in a parallel or alternate world. Everything looked the same, but there was always something different. The blue house on the corner of Main and Elm St. was now white, or the owner’s name was Smith instead of Jones. Everything was the same, but different. A seemingly insignificant event changed the path of the alternate world. Maybe the hardware store ran out of blue paint, or Mr. Jones passed away and the house was sold to the Smith family. My point is that the Ashland you see today could quite easily be significantly different, or not even exist at all, if not for decisions made by our predecessors.

OK, what would the alternate Ashland look like if events that occurred and decisions made were different? Let’s start with downtown. Stand in the middle of Gordon A. Green Square next to the war memorial and look around. What do you see? A quick tally would include Lunker’s Outfitters (the old Ashland News Store), the Central Fire station, the police station, Santander Bank, Talvy’s Florist, Sunnyside restaurant, the Greenwood Block, and Chris’ Barbershop. A typical New England downtown. But what’s missing from our list? Stone’s Public House and the railroad tracks. It may not be obvious at first, but without one, there would not be the other. And without both, Ashland might not exist at all.

What’s the connection? The railroad. Originally, around 1830 the railroad was to be built north of Ashland, connecting Boston to Worcester along what was then the turnpike running through Framingham Center. The owners of the turnpike did not want to lose revenue from the toll road, and with their influence, moved the path of the tracks through South Framingham and what is now downtown Ashland. Captain John Stone owned the property where the tracks were to be constructed, and in anticipation of the revenue that a train stop would generate, built what is now Stone’s Public House right next to the tracks.

We now have a potential downtown for a town that does not exist in 1834. The good people of the village of Unionville, as it was known, petitioned the legislature to create a new town. After three attempts, and considerable opposition by our bordering towns, Ashland incorporated in 1846. The name change from Unionville to Ashland occurred at the time of incorporation due to the admiration of Senator Henry Clay by the petitioners. Clay was very popular at the time and owned a home in Ashland, Kentucky.

The new town with a railroad now attracts business. Ashland went from a farming and mill town to one that housed shoe and box factories. One interesting note comes from Kay Powers. Her research of downtown Ashland included a bird’s eye view map of 1879. Two buildings were shown on Front St. across from Concord St. roughly where Chris’ Barbershop and the Town’s parking lot is today. There was enough room between the two buildings to extend Concord St. over the tracks, and onto Main St. This would have created two grade crossings that was gaining support by the local officials. The owners of the buildings were against the idea and built a wing between the two buildings that effectively put an end to that notion.

We now have looked a full 360 degrees around the monument. Ashland as we see it today, and our alternate Ashland would be considerably different if it wasn’t for the railroad. Chances are we would be standing in someone’s front yard, or the parking lot of a business along Fountain St. in Framingham in the alternate Ashland scenario.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
July 2014