Ashland in 1909

Ashland was a mere 63 years old in 1909. Much like our sister communities we created our own identity with churches, schools, businesses and civic organizations. The Ashland Historical Society was founded in 1909. Although it existed as the Home Study Club, the Society didn’t officially exist until 12 members signed an Agreement of Association in Judge Higley’s office on May 15, 1909.

The officers were people of note: The president was George Trask Higley, Associate Justice of The First District Court as well as a library trustee and member of the school committee. Vice President Charles S. Brewer was an assistant to Town Clerk Walter Whittemore, and also served as Tax Collector. Treasurer Mary Valentine Houghton was a descendant of both the Jones and Valentine families. The curator and trustees were also on the Who’s Who list of Ashland in 1909. They included Phebe Pierce, Horace Piper, Albert Eames and Wesley Jones. The Society housed its collection in a room provided by Abner Greenwood in the back of his brick building on the corner of Front and Concord Streets.

A look from the front of that building would have been an interesting sight in 1909. The railroad station was a primary focus of local activity. The town’s population had grown to about 1700 and coming as no surprise, a lot of it is attributed to the railroad. Most of the citizens lived close to the center of town with others living on farms on the outskirts. From local historian Kay Powers’ research, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company printed a booklet that highlighted Ashland. From that publication:

“There are eleven passenger trains out of Boston daily and ten in from Ashland. On Sundays there are five trains out and three in. The single fare is fifty cents while a ticket for three months’ use costs $23.00 and the usual running time is fifty minutes.”

I doubt fifty cents would get you to Framingham today, but we are talking 1909. Moving along, the town built two new school buildings. The high school and the South School. The primary grades were still held in the Town Hall. Kay notes that that presented a problem because the town pokey was in the basement of Town Hall and the kids were hearing foul language while out for recess. Churches were in abundance too. The Congregational on Main Street, The Baptist on Summer Street, the Catholic on Esty Street and the Methodist on Alden Street. Downtown had a two-story wooden fire station housing a steam engine and hook-and-ladder. It was located where the war memorials are today and no longer exists. The library was only five years old, and was built on land donated by Greenwood.

Streets for the most part were not paved. Some of them were lighted by electricity until 12:30 AM. Some homes had electricity and indoor plumbing, but no town water. Town water would not be available until after 1910 when the town created its first Board of Water Commissioners.

Food and other provisions were more accessible though. Wood’s grocery store and Stone’s butcher shop were on Front Street, Enslin’s grocery was on Summer Street, Whittemore’s drug store was also on Front Street as well as a fish market on Summer Street. The rest of the businesses covered just about anything else the citizens needed. There were five confectionary shops, five cigar stores, three paint stores, two dry goods stores, two dressmakers and five places to buy boots and shoes.

Along with the stores were the local professionals. They included an attorney, a civil engineer, five justices of the peace, a notary public, ten nurses, a watchmaker, an upholsterer, a scientific healer (not sure about that one), a printer, a plumber, five painters, two paperhangers, five builders, a blacksmith and a music teacher. Not bad for 1909. As Kay notes, you could buy coal, crockery, eyeglasses, fireworks, gents’ furnishings, hardware, sporting goods and insurance without leaving town.

So who needed that fifty cent train ride to Boston?

Sources: “TheYear 1909,” Kay Powers for Ashland Directions, June 1999

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
November 2016