House on Top of the Hill

Before we look at today’s story, I would like to sadly note the passing of Ashland’s own Bill Cunis. Educator, coach, and all-around good guy, Bill was always involved in every aspect of life in Ashland. He wasn’t a politician, at least not in the classical sense, because he much preferred to work one-on-one with his students and athletes rather than dragging out the soap box. There isn’t a student, or parent in town that can’t share a story about Coach. Our prayers are with you on your new journey.

Christmas in New England is a special time of year. With all the older Colonial homes that still exist it seems like Dickens would still fit right in today. One house that was a part of Christmas in Ashland stands at the top of High Street, right at the bend. Unfortunately it is vacant now. The owner passed away recently and a long standing tradition passed with her.

Mavis Crawford was the proud owner of one of the oldest houses in Ashland. Built around 1753, the house originally belonged to Josiah Burnam of Ipswich. The White Post and Beam structure is in remarkably good condition today. Three floors, two chimneys fed by two and four fireplaces respectively, more bedrooms than I can count, and a dry fieldstone foundation.

The land the house sits on was in Hopkinton at the time, where Ashland wouldn’t be Ashland for another 100 years, and encompassed nearly 400 acres of farmland. Many generations of Burnams lived on the property for the next 150 years, and the family filled many positions in town including Josiah’s grandson serving as one of the first members of the Board of Selectmen after Ashland incorporated in 1846. As with all dynasties the chain was eventually broken in 1899 when Josiah’s great-great-grandson sold the entire parcel, which included 375 acres of land, to A. C. Whittemore (now I know where the street off of High Street named “A. C. Whittemore” came from).

Whittemore’s daughter Mavis grew up in the old farmhouse. After graduating from Ashland High School she left to attend Oregon State where she met and married Eugene Crawford, a Forest Ranger with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Crawfords lived in Oregon until the passing of Mavis’s father in 1961 brought them back to Ashland. Mavis’s mother was unable to care for herself so Mavis and Gene returned to the farm. Fortunately, Gene was able to transfer to the Boston office of the USF&W making the move seamless.

The Crawfords maintained the property, and in the late 60’s opened an antique business in the barn. The business was known as Yesteryear Farm Antiques. I can still see the sign hanging from a wooden post that was shaped like a birdhouse at the top.

Here is where a Christmas tradition began in this historic place. Mavis would open her house to the public, and during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas she would hold candlelight tours of the house. Being one of the elder members of the Ashland Historical Society, Mavis was very familiar with the history of Ashland, and life in colonial times. She continued the tours well into her advanced age, but even the master needs a rest. Mavis died last June at the age of 93 leaving a void that will not be quickly filled. It is sad to see the house that was once so vibrant become just another chapter in Ashland’s history. The familiar white Yesteryear Farm sign is now replaced with another. “For Sale.”

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
January 2012