James Jackson Way

The naming of streets in Ashland always intrigued me. Most of the older ones pretty much made sense: Tilton Avenue, Cutler Drive, Homer Avenue, etc. Then there are the ones that the developer must have named after himself or a family member like Donna Lee Lane, Teller Drive, Femia Road, and the like. What better way to make your mark in Ashland’s history than to have your name blazoned on a street sign? Maybe you wouldn’t want one up in Wildwood, but who knows.

At any rate, streets named after people are usually contemporary, but occasionally we find one from a dearly departed long ago. Last month we visited the home of James Jackson on Main Street. We know from our history that Jackson was instrumental in the incorporation of Ashland in 1846, and for the name change from Unionville to Ashland at the last moment. A few residents asking why I didn’t mention how the road to the (now) Middle School came to be James Jackson Way approached me. At first glance, I thought it was probably a suggestion from the Historical Commission, but further investigation proved otherwise.

My friend and historical writer Kay Powers often referenced the Ashland Advertiser while researching material for her articles. A nineteenth century publication, the Ashland Advertiser was full of interesting and informative articles. Personally, I prefer to sift through old copies of Ashland Directions. Much like the Advertiser, the Directions was, and still is focused on Ashland and its inhabitants. I came across an article on the naming of the road to the old high school (off West Union St.). From the Directions, an Advanced Placement United States History class at the high school was tasked with naming the road to the high school. The year was 1996, and the town was preparing to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The street apparently had been named Indian Spring Court, something new to me where I grew up kitty-corner to the entrance, but the thought of honoring a past town official was proposed. This effort was actually a continuation of Ashland teacher Mr. Moresi’s 8th grade project on Ashland. Moresi’s class researched the efforts of Jackson from the original petition for separation in 1836 until the final incorporation in 1846.

With all this information in hand, the AP History class approached town officials with their proposal for renaming the road to the high school. Multiple boards were contacted including Makran Megalli from Public Works, Town Manager Dexter Blois, Dick Fannon from the Historical Commission, Dr. Barry Ruthfield, Superintendant of Schools, Roger Meeker, Chairman of the School Committee, and Shaun Finnegan, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen. Representing the AP History class, student Divya Kapasi presented the proposal to the Board of Selectmen. The only change to the proposal suggested by the board was to name the road James Jackson Way instead of James Jackson Boulevard as originally presented. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to accept the proposal and the name was officially changed. Now that is local government at its best. I’m sure Mr. Jackson would be proud.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
March 2013