The Magunco Tub

There’s a long standing rivalry between Ashland and Hopkinton that spans generations. Most will recall it as the annual Thanksgiving Day football game, but this event dates back to our incorporation in 1846. August 13th, 1846 to be exact.

From our earlier visits we know that Ashland was the result of land from Hopkinton, Framingham, and Holliston. When Ashland incorporated in 1846, it also brought along whatever support services that existed within its boundaries. Fire protection and equipment were among them.

So where’s the rivalry? Well maybe it’s not a rivalry yet, but eventually it will be, and it started off as a quarrel between Ashland and Hopkinton. The matter was brought before the townsfolk of Ashland in the following fashion:

“To see if the town will authorize a suit or suits, to be brought against any person or persons concerned in breaking and entering the Engine House on the thirteenth day of August last, and removing there from the “Fire Engine,” or pass any vote in relation thereto.”

Yes, you guessed it. Hopkinton stole the Fire Engine from Ashland. Or was it really stolen? Well, not according to Hopkinton. Locally known as the “Magunco Tub,” the fire engine was purchased by the town of Hopkinton, and was part of Union Engine Company Number Four of the Hopkinton Fire Department. Prior to Ashland’s incorporation, the fire house was on Hopkinton land and was staffed by volunteer firefighters, whom at the time of separation from Hopkinton, had “no great love or respect for the parent community [Hopkinton].” Ashland felt they owned the Magunco Tub. Hopkinton felt otherwise. Ashland was quick to respond. They created a committee comprised of Calvin Shepard, William Sears, and Benjamin Homer to:
“… prosecute the matter, and employ such counsel as they think proper. And that they be hereby authorized to prosecute any, and all legal remedies, which the town may have, against any person or persons concerned… ”

Ouch. So much for neighbor helping neighbor, but this incident left Ashland without any mechanical fire protection and the voters knew it. They quickly embraced the committee and any actions they would take.

Now here is where the history is a little clouded. Ashland somehow was able to retrieve the Magunco Tub, possibly by actions of the committee, but neither town would surrender ownership. The issue festered for months. In an attempt to move forward, this article appeared in the April 1847 Ashland Town Warrant:

“To see if the town will choose a Committee to hear any proposition that may be made from the town of Hopkinton for the settlement of the difficulties now existing between the two towns, and give them such instruction as may be thought best.”

It is unclear to me why they didn’t use the original committee of Shepard, Sears, and Homer, but it didn’t matter. Apparently the good folks of Ashland were not in the mood to entertain any conflict resolution offered by Hopkinton and subsequently passed over the article with no action taken. Another attempt was made in April 1849, and again it was rejected by the voters. It was then decided that the original committee should proceed against the town of Hopkinton instead of the original plan to prosecute any person or persons involved in the original theft in 1846. The charges would be “trespass, breaking and entering, and robbery.”

The issue was finally settled by 1850 with neither side claiming victory. Sounding more like a divorce settlement, Ashland could keep the Magunco Tub, but Hopkinton was awarded ownership of the equipment that went with it. That was the end of it; or at least as far as the Magunco Tub was concerned. But both sides had ruffled enough feathers to seek revenge in other ways. The first came as a proposition from Hopkinton to have students from both towns that lived close to schools that bordered both towns, attend the other town’s schools. This would keep travel time down for students that were too far away from their own hometown schools. Seems reasonable, but Ashland would have no part of it. Instead, they voted not to participate in this arrangement, voted to withdraw $3.00 per affected Ashland student from the Town Treasury as compensation for the parents to “home school” their children, and voted to give the School Committee:

“Discretionary powers with regard to scholars out of town – to admit them to our schools on such terms as they shall deem proper, or to exclude them.”

It didn’t stop there. Hopkinton had a Revolutionary cannon that was “borrowed” by a group of Ashland men that didn’t forget the Magunco Tub caper. Hopkinton quickly organized a rescue party and retrieved the cannon. Frequent midnight cannon trips from Hopkinton, to Ashland, and back, went on for some time until Ashland finally sunk the cannon in one of the ponds. It would then make an annual appearance to the top of Magunco Hill on the eve of the 4th of July to antagonize Hopkinton. According to “History of the Town of Ashland” by the WPA, from which most of the information for this story was obtained, the cannon made its last trip to the hill one 4th of July when it exploded killing one man.

You may think differently, but I believe this is where the Ashland – Hopkinton rivalry began. Football is a far better choice though. And I’m happy we didn’t decide to take on Framingham.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions