“What goes around comes around.” It’s an old saying that is particularly appropriate when we look at the changing modes of transportation today. With gasoline prices going through the roof, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that there is renewed interest in riding the train. Whether for commuter use, or to take in a show in Boston or Worcester, the train has become an attractive alternative to the uncertainties of oil prices. But what is the history of trains in Ashland?
From earlier discussions we know that the first train to roll through Ashland was in 1834. Owning the property, and anticipating the potential revenue the railroad would bring, Capt. John Stone built an inn right next to where the tracks were laid for the then Boston and Worcester Railroad. The inn was called the “Railroad House,” and is known as “Stone’s Public House” today. By all appearances the inn is probably more famous as a “haunted site” than its association with the railroad, but nevertheless, the inn was instrumental in the development of Ashland, bringing in notables like Daniel Webster, Governor John Davis and former Governor Levi Lincoln on opening day of rail service.
Happenstance perhaps, but originally the railroad was to travel a more northerly route parallel to Route 9. However, pressure from the Worcester Turnpike Association, concerned that they may lose toll revenue having the railroad that close, forced its location to South Framingham effectively guaranteeing passage through the center of Ashland. Had the rail passed through Framingham Center, it would probably have missed Ashland entirely.
Passenger service for the Boston and Worcester, later known as the Boston and Albany Railroad, is today provided by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited Line for trips from Boston to New York, and the MBTA for commuter service Boston to Worcester.
But in the late 19th century the Boston and Albany wasn’t the only rail servicing Ashland. By 1890, there were multiple sets of tracks downtown. One of them connected Ashland to Hopkinton. Originally established in 1869 as the Hopkinton Branch Railroad Company Number 2 (Number One was granted a charter from the General Court in 1854, but never got on track), the line merged with a smaller line called the Hopkinton and Milford Railroad Company to become the Hopkinton Railroad Company. The Ashland portion ran from downtown, west along Megunko Rd., through what is now the Middle School on West Union St., through the Valentine property (that is sadly slated for demolition), across West Union St. near Olive St., and parallel to West Union St into Hopkinton. In May of 1893, the Natick Street Railway was authorized by the General Court to extend its line to Ashland.
The new tracks now connected Ashland to Sherborn, Natick, and Framingham. This system remained active for many years until 1920 when buses and trucks replaced the need for localized rail service. The tracks long since removed, small portions of the rail bed are still visible today, particularly in the late fall. The section I remember the most, connected the rear corner of Walker Field closest to the MBTA access road, and following down to Megunko Rd. Overgrowth, the construction of the access road, and concerns over the proximity to the Nyanza site makes the path inaccessible today. The former Ashland Station downtown, designed by internationally renowned architect H. H. Richardson and built in 1887, is now a doctor’s office, and the new Ashland Station built by the MBTA is located behind Burnham’s Supper House on Pleasant St. The new station is more an over-track walkway and shares no resemblance to the works of Richardson, who along with Ashland, built rail stations for the Boston and Albany along the route. The closest, and most recognizable, is the station in South Framingham on the corner of routes 126 and 135 which currently serves as a restaurant.
Incidentally, while researching for this article I ran across the MBTA’s website listing of train schedules through Ashland.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions