Officer Tidsbury

As Ashland prepares to begin a new era with the recent appointment of Framingham Deputy Police Chief Craig Davis to the position of Chief of Police in Ashland, it is also interesting to look to our past. We have visited Top Cops in past articles, but this time let’s turn the clock back to 1902.

Set aside your image of the modern day police department in Ashland with cruisers and SUV’s and consider for a moment what the town looked like over 110 years ago. No paved roads, cars, traffic lights, or any lights at all downtown. Most people were probably home and in bed by 8:30 PM as the sidewalks surely rolled up by then. But there was always an underside operating in the shadows.

Crime is ever present whether we are talking 2013 or 1902. The local publication at the time, The Ashland Advertiser, was the source of information in 1902 much like the Metrowest Daily News is for us today. My friend and local historian Kay Powers often referred to the Advertiser for glimpses of the past, and I ran across one of her earlier columns highlighting our first real Beat Cop. Kay condensed the article that appeared in the Advertiser on July 18, 1902 for her article in 1985.

Here are the highlights:

There was a store belonging to J.E. Woods in the Greenwood Block on Front Street that was recently burglarized, and the town officials quietly dispatched Officer George Tidsbury to patrol the area with the hope of catching the perpetrators in action. It didn’t take long. At 12:45AM, that Saturday, Officer Tidsbury, standing near the engine house, spotted a man standing in front of the store, turn around, and disappear into the darkness as he walked down Concord Street. Shortly after, a light appeared in the back of the store. Officer Tidsbury crossed Front Street and approached a man standing next to an open bulkhead in the building. The man asked if he was Tidsbury, and the officer replied that he was. Two burglars inside the store heard the conversation and came out the first floor window. Tidsbury called to the pair to raise their hands or he would “riddle them with bullets.”

The men responded by shooting first, hitting Officer Tidsbury in the right leg. In the hail of bullets that followed, neither the bad guys nor Tidsbury found their mark in the darkness. One ran down Front Street, and the other ran across the freight yard and is said “to have made the liveliest speed going down Main Street.”

That left the first man that Tidsbury encountered before the gunfire. He immediately raised his hands in the air and was “collared” by Tidsbury. The two men walked over to Mr. Woods’ house just a few feet down Front Street (where Carlo’s used to be, or the Trackside Grill or Kelly’s as it is known now, is located). Mr. Woods accompanied Tidsbury with the man to the lockup, which I would imagine was located downstairs in Town Hall.

The total take from Mr. Woods’ store would have been 50 cigars and several packages of tobacco if the robbery had not been interrupted. The prisoner had on his person a loaded revolver, and after questioning, denied knowing the other two involved in the robbery other than saying he was approached by them that night. The case remained unsolved, and I doubt any documentation still exists. Perhaps newly appointed Chief Davis can investigate.

Officer Tidsbury recovered from his wound, and according to the Ashland Advertiser “has been in a good many exciting encounters as constable, police officer, and deputy sheriff. A year ago he was sent to investigate a case of insanity and a crazy woman commenced shooting at close range. He protected himself by holding a chair in front of his body, the seat receiving bullets, and placed the woman in restraint.”

This wasn’t his only encounter with pistol packing ladies. Fifteen years prior, a woman standing on her second story piazza downtown starting shooting at the crowd beneath her on the sidewalk. Officer Tidsbury climbed up and took the revolver from her. He noted that “she was a large, strong woman and when intoxicated a determined woman.”

His last encounter was with a woman he was sent by authorities to investigate her sanity. She answered the door with a pistol six inches from his face. Fortunately, it failed to fire. She was sent directly to the Westboro Asylum.

“Tid,” as he was known by the less than upstanding characters in town, was a man of courage, and “wouldn’t scare worth a cent.” They were quiet and humble if they thought he was carrying a warrant.

I wonder what officer Tidsbury would think of policing today. Technology and training certainly has advanced to the point where responses to dangerous situations can be less dangerous, but I still have that image of “Tid” climbing up to the second story piazza.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
October 2013