Law and Order

Every city and town, regardless of the size, requires protection of life and property. As we all know, this usually comes in the form of fire and police departments either on the local or regional level. At the time of our incorporation in 1846, Ashland was required by the Commonwealth to appoint a constable. At the first town meeting, James S. Baird was tapped for the position as Ashland’s top cop, and the only cop for that matter. There was no official police station, but a lockup was installed in the basement of the town hall during its construction in 1855. As a point of interest, the original jail cell door was preserved during the last restoration of the town hall and can be seen today.

Research for today’s story took a few turns due to the scarcity of written documentation of the early years. The files at the Ashland Historical Society are fairly thin on the subject, but I did find “a brief history” of the Ashland Police Department presented by former Police Chief Walter Schouler at the dedication of the new Ashland Police station in 1978. He wasn’t kidding. It was brief. My predecessor, Kay Powers, researched old copies of the local publication Ashland Advertiser for what I would guess would be the equivalent of the “Police Beat” of today’s papers, and found a lot of interesting entries.

From Kay’s research, there were a lot of references to Constable George G. Tidsbury around the turn of the last century. On a warm July night in 1902, Mr.Tidsbury spotted three men creeping towards the back of Wood’s grocery store. He ordered them to stop, and shots were fired. Tidsbury was wounded in the leg, but still managed to apprehend one of the suspects. Another incident involved Tidsbury disarming an “inebriated woman who was firing at passers-by from the veranda of a house in the center of town”. Déjà vu anyone? It reminds me of that shooting incident in front of the Ashland Police Station some years back.

Moving forward, Charles MacNear was appointed Chief in 1927. Police headquarters were located in Charlie’s Leland Avenue home. He had no car, but was thought to have had a telephone. Prohibition was the law of the land then and MacNear, with the help of the State Police, raided an illegal still that was operating in a local barn. Nine men were arrested, but there was no mention of the disposition of the product.

The next Chief was Charles Olson (1931-1934) who later became a well known 12-term Massachusetts Senator, followed by his brother Victor. Victor was instrumental in establishing the first traffic rules and regulations in town. Again, the “Police Headquarters” was moved to the Olson residence on West Union Street. Both Victor and Charlie Olson died tragically in a car accident in Maryland in 1967.

By 1938, Walter Schouler patrolled the streets of Ashland as Chief in his own car and Mrs. Schouler fielded all the police calls from the Schouler residence. She had no way of directly contacting her husband, so at his own expense he had the radio in his car modified to pick up the State Police band. He even received his own call number from the State Police to notify him of matters requiring local police action.

The year is now 1951. Police headquarters moved upstairs in the Community Building on Main Street. Chief Schouler had a new cruiser with a 2-way radio tuned into the State Police, and a second officer named Ray Kennedy was hired. Quite a leap into modernization!

Ashland was growing and many changes were still to come. Traffic lights at Main and Union, blinking lights at other key intersections. Retired Chief Bob Gonfrade remembers the red light and siren that was attached to the side of the Community Building for Chief Schouler to use to summon his officers. Shortly after, Ashland purchased our own 2-way radio dispatch system.

Finally, after 26 years as Chief, Walter Schouler retired in 1967. He was replaced by Donald Nelson from Dedham, who was then succeeded by Andrew Juhasz in 1971.

Chief Juhasz served until 1974 when Sgt. Robert Gonfrade took over the reins. The town had been looking at replacing the police station since 1972, and by 1978 the project was complete. The new station was dedicated in June of 1978 with former Chief Schouler presenting his “brief history” of the Ashland Police Department at the ceremony.

During his tenure, Chief Gonfrade cited all the development on Rt. 126 as posing a new set of challenges for the Ashland Police Department. No longer were they concerned about chasing cows over at Whitney Beef. They now had to deal with increased traffic, shoplifting, break-ins, and other policing issues associated with the shopping plaza and other commercial establishments.

Chief Gonfrade retired in 1994. Sgt. Thomas Kinder was appointed Chief of the 21 man force, and held that position until Roy Melnick took over in 2000. Chief Melnick resigned in 2006 due to “philosophical differences” paving the way for Ashland Lt. Scott Rohmer to assume responsibilities as Chief. Scott is currently serving in that capacity.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
March 2010