Directions and the AECC

The Ashland Directions you see today is the evolution of a community newsletter published for free, as it still is today, by civic minded Ashland folk in 1974 who wanted to spread the “non-political” word to all our neighbors. I am looking at the March 1974 issue (a bit yellowed by age) that clearly outlines the mission of the newsletter: “Ashland Directions was conceived as a way of improving communications among Ashland residents in order to build a cohesive community. Therefore we wish to encourage any person or group who wishes to communicate with the townspeople (apart from political candidates) to please do so by using Ashland Directions.”” It further encouraged the readers to contact then editor, Kathy Cardiff, with their thoughts and submissions for the newsletter.

Ashland Directions or “Directions” as it is often referred to was originally a product of the Ashland Educational Community Center (AECC) located at Ashland High School (the latest “old Ashland High” on West Union St.). They even had a 617 area code for their phone number. Remember that? You need a prestigious Boston address to have one now. Anyway, AECC is largely credited to the efforts of David Magnani, who wanted to provide community educational programs that would be available to everyone, for free. A sample of the Adult Enrichment Programs offered by AECC included “Beginners Spanish II,” “The Art of Cooking,” “Getting to Know European Wines,” “Learning Chess,” “Law for Laymen,” and “Beginners Auto Repair.” Keeping in mind that cable didn’t exist in 1974, Ashland Directions was the logical choice of AECC for getting the word out.

The front page of this particular issue of Directions, under the “Civic Issues Forum,” profiled two candidates for Selectman: Dennis DeSiata and Edwin Gilman. Careful not to appear as an endorsement for either one, the newsletter provided each of the candidate’s backgrounds, professional experience, and platforms. Reading on, the newsletter featured an article on “The Barn,” which was a town-owned building under the supervision of the Ashland Recreation Department. Located behind the old police station (neither building exists today), The Barn was used as a meeting place for the youth of Ashland to encourage “interaction with their peers.” Other articles included various workshops, and meetings of civic and religious organizations.

One article I found interesting highlighted Ashland’s Girl Scout Troop 196. Under the guidance of Advisor Linnea Prefontaine, the girls competed in “Operation Polar Bear” at the Boy Scout Camp at Cedar Hill in Waltham. What made this event particularly special was the appearance of Natalie Jacobsen, who then aired the “Good Morning Show” on channel 5. With the station’s mobile unit parked on the Charles, the girls appeared on TV showing Natalie and her producer their proficiency in building a table and cooking outdoors.

The remainder of the newsletter contained the calendar of local events in Ashland. It was interesting to note how many of the meeting places no longer exist, or have moved. To mention a few, the Ashland Lions, scheduled to meet at Marconi’s Restaurant (now The Fusion Cuisine on Rt. 126), now meet at TJ’s Restaurant on Rt. 135. At the time there was only one Lions club in town, now there is two. The Ashland Lioness Club, which was a part of the Ashland Lions Club, formed their own club known as the Greater Ashland Lions. Originally they met at Carlo’s Restaurant (now the Trackside Grill). They now meet at the Eagles All American Grill in Framingham. The Knight of Columbus met at the K of C hall on West Union St. They eventually sold the property to the Town of Ashland which became the Senior Center. They now meet at the church halls of St. Cecilia’s in Ashland, and St. John’s in Hopkinton.

This particular 1974 issue of Directions was hand typed, mimeographed, and sent to every household in Ashland. But Directions itself was changing with the times and technology. From the original hand typed format it evolved into to a more efficient tabloid format. Still it was a major effort to produce, and after 13 years and countless hours of volunteer help it stopped publishing in 1985. Fortunately, (then) recently retired Ashland school teacher Evelyn Gates lead an effort to resume publication of Directions. Using volunteer help from senior citizens and others they resumed publication in 1986. It remained in that familiar “cut and paste” tabloid format until 2009 when technology caught up once again. Rising publication costs forced Directions into an all electronic format. Progress they call it. I have to admit, however, it was interesting to see everyone cutting their articles and pictures out, and placing them strategically on the wax pages. Pages that would eventually be The Ashland Directions.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
February 2011