Who Lived Here?

Have you ever walked into an old house and wondered who lived here? I’m not talking about one of Mr. Bell’s ranches built in the 1950s, but more along the lines of the Valentine or Enslin homes. Even the Ocean House, home of the Historical Society, can pique your curiosity. You can’t help wondering who walked these halls before you.

The Ashland Historical Society gets a lot of requests asking about the ownership history of many older homes in town. It probably comes as no surprise that some of the members of the Society live, or have lived in these homes.

Before retiring to their present location, Society members Kay and Frank Powers owned such a home on Fountain Street. In Kay’s own words, she and Frank found one deed to their house dated April 10, 1875. It was given by James O’Connell and his wife to Theresa Ward a “married woman, wife of Edward A. Ward of said Ashland.” The price paid was $2,000.00 which was consistent with pricing for that time period, but what followed really must have raised a few eyebrows in 1875: “To have and to hold the granted premises with all the privileges and appurtenances thereto belonging to the said Theresa C. Ward, free from the interference or control of any husband.” Guess it was her house.

Theresa was born in Randolph in 1844. She married Civil War veteran Edward Ward of Hopkinton who was employed by the Tilton Boot and Shoe Company on Pleasant Street, and after 5 years of marriage SHE (Kay emphasizes this) bought the house.

Teresa was active in the Women’s Relief Corps, and was lauded for her charity work as her name frequently appeared in the local newspaper. She was also a member of the Methodist Church. She and her husband lived in her house until a very unfortunate turn of events in 1913. Kay quotes the local paper, The Ashland Advertiser: “Edward A. Ward, aged 75 years and 1 month, and a long time and highly respected resident of Ashland, was struck and killed by an east bound Boston and Albany express train, number 32, while he was crossing the tracks just below the overhead Fountain Street railroad bridge and within sight of his own home. Mr. Ward had just finished eating his breakfast and had started to cross the tracks on his way over to the stone arch railroad bridge which is undergoing construction, to watch the work as he was accustomed to do daily. He has been extremely deaf for several years and in all probability did not hear the approaching express as he had already crossed one track and was just stepping on to the eastbound track when he stepped directly in front of the express. He was badly mangled and the body was thrown some distance away. The train was stopped and the remains were placed onboard and taken to Framingham where they were viewed by the medical examiner.” Apparently, he had been warned not to cross the tracks at that point, and unfortunately, his luck ran out. He was buried in Holliston.

Theresa continued to live in the residence unremarkably until 1936. However, in early January, while she was in the kitchen, the stove exploded. The blast blew out two doors and windows, and caused the walls to bulge. She was unhurt, but hot coals had started a fire. In a letter to the editor, Bill Bell cited Mr. Joseph Cunis as having saved both Theresa and the house.

“Mr. Cunis heard the explosion, saw the smoke pouring from the broken windows and heard Mrs. Ward call for help. He ran to the door and broke it down. He was enveloped in a cloud of smoke and gas from the fire. An unidentified substance had caused the explosion. He entered the burning room, put out numerous fires caused by the burning coals, and opened the building to release the gases. He found Mrs. Ward in a dazed condition, having been hurled across the room by the force of the explosion, her face burned, and her hair and eyelashes singed and burned off.”

The letter to the editor went on to say that any of the neighbors would have been happy to assist Mrs. Ward, but that the credit for saving her life and property should go to Mr. Cunis. Also, keep in mind that the year was 1936. Mrs. Ward was 92 years old! She was definitely made from solid stock. Nevertheless, as we all well know, no one is immortal. She lived to see her 96th birthday, and quietly passed that July. At the time of her death she was the second oldest person in Ashland. She was buried next to her husband in Holliston.

I know the house as it still stands today at the curve on Fountain Street right after the train bridge heading towards Framingham. It always seemed to be leaning outward in places, but I attributed this to just being an old building. Maybe it was the explosion after all.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
December 2013