James Jackson House

One of the best parts of living in New England, especially if you love history, is the abundance of historical homes. We all know that Ashland was incorporated in 1846 making us the new kids in the neighborhood but that does not mean we didn’t have our share of stately homes.

Today’s remaining homes like the Valentine and Enslin homes on West Union Street as well as the Ocean House on Myrtle Street just to name a few are reminders that settlers were here long before Ashland was “Ashland”.

Ashland? Where did the name come from? From previous visits, we know that our town was originally a village known as Unionville prior to 1846. We also know that Calvin Shepard and James Jackson were the driving force that finally convinced the General Court to establish Ashland as an independent town in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After granting us our sovereignty from Framingham, Hopkinton, and Holliston, Unionville was to be named after the great Senator Clay’s residence in Kentucky. His home was known as Ashland for its abundance of Ash trees on the property. Clay made such an impression on Jackson and Shepard that the petition for incorporation changed from Unionville to Ashland at the last moment. At the Historical Society, we have a copy of the original petition, and everywhere the name “Unionville” appeared was lined-out and replaced with “Ashland.”

Anyway, back to historic homes. Today’s story focuses on the red Georgian style brick house to the left of the Town Hall. Today, it is known as the Ashland House, and it fronts a more modern senior living complex. The building was originally constructed around 1836 for the first minister of the then Congregational Church across the street. The Reverend James McIntire and his wife needed a residence close to the church. His wife’s father, a Mr. Bartlett from Newburyport, happened to be a prominent builder, and constructed the home for his daughter and son-in-law.

Unfortunately, they didn’t stay long. The Reverend’s young wife took ill and passed away. Within 2 years of accepting the position at the church, the Reverend left the congregation to return to his original home in Maryland. The brick house, which was not an asset of the church, was put up for sale.

As luck would have it, a potential buyer was at hand. Local resident James Jackson was looking for a home more suitable for his wife and nine children. He was a successful manager at Middlesex Union Factory Company, a local cotton mill, and planned to stay in the community. He purchased the house.

Jackson’s presence in Ashland was well documented. Along with his contribution to the establishment of Ashland, he purchased enough shares in the cotton mill to own the company. He retired in 1852 at the age of 55, and continued to live in the house until his death 12 years later.

After a number of owners, Harold and Ann Thurston purchased the house in 1944. Ann was the personal secretary of Henry E. Warren, who we all know is credited as the pioneer of the synchronous electric clock. Mrs. Thurston was also a member of the Ashland Historical Society and had a genuine interest in the preservation of the historic home.

Time would pass, and Ashland would grow. The need to expand the housing for the elderly became apparent, and the town decided that a facility close to downtown would be most beneficial. Ashland already had senior facilities on Park Road next to the train tracks, something I never understood unless you were really hard of hearing, but more was required to house both the seniors and the handicapped. The brick house was purchased by the town and the new senior/handicap facility was, built directly behind it, and attached to it. It was named Ashland House.

As I recall, most of the brick that was used to build houses during that era came from the brickworks on Union Street near Metropolitan Avenue. It was known as Ashland Brick, and had a tendency for being a “little soft.” Fortunately, the house still stands today, but I wonder if the name should have been the Ashland Brick House.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
February 2013