Prehistory: When Holderness voted to build a Town House in 1829, the voters dictated its present location at the center of the Town's road network. As the village that is now Ashland grew, the villagers wanted to move the Town House to the village which was the greatest center of population. Between 1855 and 1867, there were five warrant articles at different Holderness town meetings for such a change, four to physically move the Town House to the village, and one to swap the Town House property for the White Meetinghouse on Mechanic Street in the village and turn that Meetinghouse into a town hall. All five articles failed. That failure was part of the growing rift between the villagers and the rest of the town that led to the secession of Ashland from Holderness in 1868. The boundaries of the new town left the old Town House in the old town (Holderness).
For the first couple of years, the Ashland voters used Squam Lake Hall for their town meetings. The Hall was a building on the present site of the Town Hall, built about 1840, used for dances, meetings, concerts, etc. In 1871, it was being used as an auction room and was valued at about $400, so it was probably not a very pretentious building. At the annual meeting in March of 1871, it was voted to build a Town Hall at a cost not to exceed $8000. A five man building committee was chosen and authorized to make contracts and “do all things necessary to complete the erection of said hall the ensuing year-except to locate the same; that question to be referred to an adjourned meeting”. The voters adjourned to meet again at the same place on April 11. However, on April 5, Squam Lake Hall caught fire and was entirely destroyed in about 20 minutes. The Lake Village Times reported at the time that the fire was “supposed to be the work of an incendiary”, but there were no further newspaper references to the cause of the fire, so I am not sure if it really was arson or if that was just a rumor.
So, on April 11, 1871 the voters met at the site of Squam Lake Hall for what is still the only outdoor town meeting in Ashland's history. Of course it rained. The Lake Village Times described the meeting under the title “Queer Town Meeting- On the 11th, the citizens met to fix upon a location for the new building. They assembled in the open air and stood for four hours in a pouring rain, the Selectmen holding the checklist under an umbrella and then adjourned without reaching a decision.” The newspaper reported that there were more voters at this meeting than there had been at the March meeting. The only motion recorded by the town clerk was to locate the Town Hall on the land where Squam Lake Hall stood, provided that the owner Jonathan F. Keyes gave the land to the Town. That motion was defeated.
A special town meeting was held in May 1871 in Selectman Stephen Baker's barn to consider two articles, 1) to choose a committee to locate the Town Hall and purchase the land for the Town Hall and 2) to instruct building agents to spend only $6000 on the Town Hall. Both articles were dismissed. On June 10, another special town meeting was held in Selectman William P. Drake's stock house. Drake was a paper manufacturer, so the stock house was probably his paper mill's warehouse. The warrant included five articles with different courses of action on Town Hall, 1) to authorize the elected building committee to locate the Town Hall, buy the site and build it, 2) to reconsider the $8000 appropriation and the election of the building committee, 3) to appropriate $4000 for the Town Hall, 4) to choose a new committee, and 5) to appropriate no more than $5000 for the Town Hall. The meeting voted to repeal the $8000 appropriation, to dismiss the building committee, to appropriate $4000 for the Town Hall and land, and to choose three new people George W. Mitchell, Jeremiah M. Calley and Thomas N. Hughes as agents “to build a Town house 60 feet in length by 36 feet and proportionally high, to determine the location, purchase the site, make contracts and do all things needed to complete the building”. Amendments to increase the length and width were defeated. One more meeting was held in Drake's stock house with more warrant articles to build the hall 40 feet wide by 70 feet long, to fit up a library room, with bookcases, etc. in the building (The Town Library had been established by the vote of a special meeting in May of 1870.) to postpone the erection of the Town Hall to the following spring, and also to allow the reconsideration of all past votes and to take any new votes, including a new appropriation and new building agents. The meeting voted to build a Town Hall with walls of brick and left it up to the committee to build it 36 to 40 feet in width, 60 to 70 feet in length. No action was taken on the library room or the postponing or anything else.
The second committee got to work. By a deed signed by Jonathan F. Keyes and his wife Susan on July 25 1871, they purchased for $500 the present Town Hall lot 8 rods wide and 12 rods deep. Payments to the building agents from the town treasury suggest that work was underway by September. Unfortunately, records do not show how that money was spent on the building of Town Hall. We know from a later biographical sketch that the builder was carpenter John Jewell of Holderness (1813-1902) who also built St. Mark's Church. The committee did choose the larger dimensions of 40 by 70 feet. They were not however able to keep within the $4000 budget.
A special meeting was held on January 31, 1872 in the Town Hall “recently erected for the use of the Town” to consider and act on the report of the building committee. The town clerk noted that the report was read by T.N. Hughes “which report seems (underlined by the clerk) to make the cost of the Hall, with stove and funnel, $6529.42. The meeting then voted to pay the $2509.42 above the appropriation. The 1872 town report gave the total cost of the building, stove, and furniture as $6999.06. The Town Hall consisted basically of two halls stacked on top of each other. The lower hall, the Town Hall proper, is now the first two stories. It was a large tall space with anterooms topped by a balcony at the street end, and a stage at the rear end. The upper hall is still intact, with an arched ceiling, occupying most of what is now the third floor.
The history of the Town Hall can be divided into three eras, first as Ashland's major hall, used for town meetings and other public events, from 1872 to 1950, the second as school classrooms from 1952 to 1970, and third as the town offices and police station from 1972 to the present.
Public Hall Era
Janitor of Town Hall: At the March 1872 meeting, the selectmen were authorized to appoint an “agent to take care of Town Hall” But, from 1875 until 1949, the Janitor of the Town Hall was elected every year, despite a couple of warrant articles in 1930s to again have the selectmen make the appointment. A three way race for the position in 1907 required four ballots before one of the candidates got a majority vote as then required. My research came up with 25 to 26 men who held the post over about eight decades. The janitor was more than a custodian. He also collected the rents for the use of the hall and sometimes license fees, so in some sense, he was a building manager. In many years, the janitor made an annual financial report, sometimes very detailed, and usually published in the town report, which gives us some idea of what the hall was used for and how it worked financially. In the early years the income from the hall was enough to pay the janitor for his hours of work, so he would turn over the profit only to the town treasurer, By the 1920s, expenses were often exceeding the receipts, so in the 1930s and 1940s the janitor was paid an annual stipend of $100, which the rents of the Hall usually did not cover.
Use of Hall
All town meetings and elections were held in the Town Hall from January 1872 to November 1950.
They were only a small fraction of the events held in the hall. Over the years, hundreds of public events of all types were held there. There were other halls in Ashland, but in many ways, the Hall was the entertainment, as well as the political, center of the Town.
To give the flavor of the Town Hall use, I took a look at a particular fiscal year Feb 16, 1912 to Feb 15, 1913, because the town report contains a very detailed janitor's report four pages long with dates for every event that he collected money from during that year. Newspaper coverage was pretty good for that period, although not every event was mentioned and there are a few that I was not able to figure out.
Government & Politics
In March, the town meeting and Democratic and Republican caucuses to pick their party's candidates for town offices.
In April, over 200 Republicans met to select delegates for district and state conventions. The large turnout was probably because of the division of the party between supporters of the current president William H. Taft and the former president Teddy Roosevelt, which led to a split in the party, with Taft as the regular Republican candidate and Roosevelt as the progressive Republican or Bull Moose candidate. In the fall, there were four political rallies, the Democrats, the Republicans and two by the Progressive Republicans. The Ashland town band played for all of them. In November there was also a no-license mass meeting, as at that time each town would vote every two years on whether or not to license the sale of liquor in that town. At the November election, the votes were actually rather evenly split, 131 for Taft 124, for Roosevelt, and 109 for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the national winner. And the town did vote no-license, as it had before.
In June, the commencement exercises for the 8th grade were held.
A mix of professional traveling theater companies and local talent, usually for just one night stands.
In February, Pythian Sisters presented “At Random Run” a comedy drama, later repeated as a benefit for Will Daring. (I don’t know why he needed a benefit but it raised $75 for him.) In March, High School play “Red Acre Farm” to raise money for the piano fund, made $60, more than enough to pay for the piano. April 8th grade class did “Silas, the Choir Boy”, a romance of New England life. St. Agnes Church also did a play.
In May, the Earnest Workers performed “Willowdale” and a traveling company presented “The Texas Cattle King” a thrilling tale of the cattle lands, with performances by a cowboy band and vaudeville between acts.
In June, the WH Bailey Co, had a vaudeville show which played three nights with a different program each night of 10 big numbers. July Hose Co. 2 sponsored Marion Wilson of New York in her clever and remarkable series of character studies in costume.
The Millionarie's Wife Co. presented the play of that name, a comedy drama of life in a southern village. In November, the High School did “How Jim Made Good”, which they took on the road and repeated in Holderness.
“The Western Girl” was shown by another traveling company. Earnest Workers did “A Day at the County Fair” an amusing drama with musical specialties.
St. Agnes Church gave “The Teaser”, a comedy drama, followed by a dance. The play was repeated in Plymouth to raise money for St Matthew's Church.
Uncle Tom's Cabin Company presented that play with a street parade and a band concert.
The Janitor rented the hall for movies 23 times. They are not mentioned in the paper, except for one in June described as “the greatest set of reels ever run in any picture theater” with no other details. (The Town Hall was used for movies for many years in the early 20th century. But, after the New Lyric Theater, a real movie theater, was built on Main Street in 1915, movies seem to have just ended at the Town Hall.)
In June, Music Earnest Workers presented the Nordland Girls with violin, cello, and vocal numbers, in solos and in concert.
In August, a program of folk dances by young people with musical selections and readings raised money for an organ motor for St. Mark's Church.
In January, the Earnest workers presented as part of the The Entertainment Course, two performances with Phyllis Hammon, a harpist and F.0. Harrell, the musical magician.
The janitor listed 9 dances, also the annual concert and ball of Hose Company No. 2, and a dance of the Hook & Ladder Company.
Lecture one stereopticon lecture by Rev. Dudley Tyng on China in War Time in April
Organizations also held fundraisers, usually fairs which included items for sale and entertainment for an entrance fee, including St. Mark's Church, the Methodists, Squam Lake Grange, and the Baptists. The Baptists hired two professional performers from the White Entertainment Bureau and promised 50 cents of entertainment for 25 cents. St. Mark's charged 15 cents for what appears to be local talent, folk dancing by children and young ladies, musical numbers by Camp Wachusett, vocal, drum and piano solos and readings.
Basketball was invented in1891. The Town Hall was described as late as 1940's as the only basketball court in town. The hall was used for seven basketball practices and five games, but not all were reported in the paper. The town team beat Franklin, but lost to Plymouth.
There were seven rentals of the hall for roller skating that were reported.
Four wrestling matches which involved both local amateurs and out of town professionals or semi-professionals like the Russian Lion and Cracker Jack Butler of Brockton, Mass.
That was a somewhat typical year. In other years we find by just glancing through janitor's reports other events: Memorial Day, Flag Day, High school graduations, a bear show, soldiers' drills, waxworkers, glass-blowers, dancing schools, medicine shows, a dog show, a herdsmen show, Halloween and Christmas tree parties. Other organizations, the Rebekahs, GAR and WRC, Epworth League, Idolita Club, the T.O.U club, Knights of Pythias, Masons, Good Templars, Eastern Star, the Canados, Odd Fellows, Baseball Club, the Socialists, YMCA , the Ladies Club, Holy Name Club, American Legion, Woman's Club, all used the hall.
In 1887 the town voted to let the Town Hall for occasional religious meetings for actual expenses at the discretion of the selectmen. In 1896, the janitor reported 16 Catholic meetings and 6 Salvation Army meetings which paid no fees. Both the Catholics and the Methodists used the Town Hall for their services before they built their own churches. The 1917 town meeting voted free use of the Town Hall for drilling purposes on the eve of World War I.
The March 1872 meeting authorized the selectmen to lease the upper story to Mount Prospect Lodge of Masons. They appear to have occupied the upper hall until 1909, when they moved to their new hall in the Shepard block. Rent was $50 per year in those years it was reported in the Town Report. The March 1913 meeting gave the Ashland Band free use of the upper floor for their meetings. The 1916 town meeting authorized the selectmen to lease the upper hall to the Grand Army of the Republic. The Sons of the Veterans are recorded as paying $35 per year for rent until the 1927 meeting voted to give the GAR, WRC and Sons of Veterans free rent and electric lights. I am not sure how long these Civil War groups continued to use the upper hall.
Changes to the Buildings
Money was spent on repairs and upkeep, painting shingling, etc., but actual changes seem to have been few during Town hall era. In 1878, the ceiling was sheathed, the stage raised, and the walls frescoed. The March 1890 town report notes that the building was wired for electricity in the previous fiscal year. The February 1902 town report notes that “Town water and suitable closets (i.e. toilets) with sewer connection put in Town Hall at a cost of about $170”. The March 1905 meeting voted to build a fire escape on the rear of the Town Hall for an exit from the Masonic hall, which was done at a cost of $193.88. In 1920, L.W. Packard donated a bronze tablet as a memorial for the soldiers of World War I, which cost nearly $700 and was mounted next to the main entrance where the little bulletin board is now. Originally, the main hall had only the main entrance on the street end. To provide more than one escape route in case of a fire, two doors were added on the sides of the building in 1927.
Other Structures on Town Hall Grounds
The March 1872 town meeting voted to instruct the selectmen to build a lobby. The cost was $582.08. It was much used for tramps. Statistics for care of tramps show that it served 60 in 1905, 187 in 1911 and 346 in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression.
It was not a very good jail. In February 1912 the newspaper reported that two men, one arrested for drunkenness and the other for petty theft who did not give their names, were locked in jail overnight. In the morning, it was found that the two men had pried off the tops of their cells, and then battered down the outside door with a stick and escaped. The newspaper said “This makes in the vicinity of twelve persons who have broken out from this place and it seems nearly time that something was done towards a proper lock up”. The March 1912 town meeting voted $225 for two steel lattice jail cells which were installed in the jail. I don't know when lockups stopped. It was later used at times as a dog pound, and is now used mostly for storage.
The 1883 birds eye view of the village shows what could be a bandstand on the grounds. It is not seen in later photographs from the 1890s. The March 1913 meeting voted $100 to build a bandstand. The band stand was erected in Town Hall yard that spring and used for its first concert in June. It was demolished in 1930, as it had become much dilapidated.
Civil War Soldiers Monument
The Civil War Soldiers Monument was erected with an1898 town appropriation and money raised by GAR and WRC for a total of $2000. The three man monument committee contracted with John Swenson of Concord for that amount. The committee had no funds nor authority to buy land so they decided to put it in Town Hall yard. This aroused strong opposition by many who felt that it should be on Main Street where travelers could see it. 182 voters petitioned for a change of location, but the committee had it erected in front of Town Hall anyways. It was dedicated there on Memorial Day 1899. A special town meeting on June 6 voted unanimously 118 to 0 to move monument to Main Street. However state law said that a special town meeting could only appropriate money if a majority of the voters were present and voting, so those in favor of the Town Hall site simply did not vote. The monument committee members promptly got a judge to declare the vote invalid because a majority of the town's 369 voters had not voted. At the town meeting in March 1900, it was voted again to move it to Main Street, so that spring, it was moved to its present location. Colonel Cheney, the chair of the original monument committee, wanted to create a park in front of the Town Hall with the Civil War Monument in the center. He also proposed another monument there to Hercules Mooney.
Spanish American War Monument
After the World War I soldiers got their plaque, there was a movement to do the same for the Spanish American War veterans. The March 1921 town meeting dismissed an article for such a monument, but the March 1922 town meeting voted $300 for one and it was erected that May in the Town Hall yard near the street. It appears to have made by F.J. and E.O Sanborn, the local monument company, but it was also later moved to Main Street. In 1938, the Town acquired by tax deed the Deane lot on Main Street, where the Deane house had burned down. In 1945, the wooden World War II honor roll was erected there. The 1946 town meeting voted to hold the lot permanently as a war memorial. Accordingly, the 1949 town meeting voted to move the World War I tablet and the Spanish American War monument to the Deane lot, where they were placed on both sides of the World War II honor roll.
The March 1924 meeting authorized the selectmen to purchase a wagon scale, which they did that year, and placed (I believe) on Main Street. But its location was an inconvenience to its neighbors, so in 1929 it was moved to the Town Hall yard. In 1955, the town meeting voted to sell the scale as it had not been used for a number of years.
During the Town Hall era, there were two periods in which major changes, major remodeling, even demolition and replacement, were considered for the building. The first came after World War I and began with a fairly simple article in the March 1919 town meeting warrant to erect a bronze tablet with the names of the soldiers from Ashland in the war. The meeting appointed a committee to investigate a suitable memorial and report at the next meeting. The committee reported back with two suggestions, to give the American Legion $300 to fix up their present building as a temporary headquarters and to appropriate $4500 to rebuild the Town Hall as a more lasting memorial, the building to be enlarged and the interior remodeled. The report was accepted and the money voted. But $4500 was not enough. A March 1921 warrant article asked to raise an additional sum of money to enlarge and improve the Town Hall. The response of the meeting was to rescind a1920 appropriation of $500 for a street sprinkler and add that to the Town Hall fund. However $5000 still was not enough, so the March 1922 meeting warrant had another article asking for more money. The voters appointed a committee to investigate and report later. The committee worked with architect Plummer of Laconia on a plan and advertised for bids. On May 9, the committee made its report and the town meeting voted another $7000 on top of the $5000 and chose a building committee. They then voted “almost unanimously” that the selectmen assess every voter on the checklist an equal sum to raise the $7000, which proved to be the downfall of the project. The selectmen consulted the state attorney general, who told them the method of raising the money was illegal, therefore the $7000 appropriation was illegal, and the project was stopped in its tracks. By the following year, public opinion had changed. The newspaper reported that a majority of the Legion members did not want to spend the money on the Town Hall and instead wanted to use the money to build or buy property “suitable for their own interests.” At the 1923 meeting, the voters agreed, rescinding the votes on enlarging the Town Hall and voting to give the $5000 that had been raised to the Legion post. In1924, the Legion post bought the old hotel on Monument Square (now Thompson Street Apartments) and turned it into their Legion hall. It served as their headquarters for about 50 years before they built their present Hall.
In the late 1930's there was again interest in improving the town hall. There was also interest in building a gymnasium for the school. In their early 1939 report in the Town report, the Budget Committee noted these concerns, and that a committee had discussed various plans and proposals but the Budget Committee felt it was unwise to spend a large amount at that time.
In their early 1940 report, the Budget Committee said that a plan for the Town Hall costing $17,000 was presented, but that the Town had reached its legal debt limit. The committee suggested instead appointing a three person committee to bring in a plan for what could be done to improve the Town Hall with $6000 to $7000. The 1940 annual meeting did approve such a committee to report back at the 1941 meeting, but no such plan was presented at that town meeting. In their early 1941 report, the budget committee agreed that better school facilities were needed and suggested voting $5000 each year to erect a new building near the high school until enough had been raised. The March 1941 town meeting did vote the $5000 for a reserve fund to be used to purchase land and erect an assembly building near the school for the benefit of the schools and the public. Every meeting from then on through 1949 voted the $5000 for the fund, although the 1943 meeting did allow the selectmen to take $5000 from the fund to repair the Jackson Pond dam. The March 1946 meeting was asked to bond $48,000, and use money from the reserve fund to build a combination town hall and gym. A presentation stated the site of the Town Hall was the most favorable site for the new building. The article was adopted and a committee appointed to carry out the article. In March 1947, the committee reported back that they had met twice with architect Norman Randlett of Laconia, they thought his first plan was too expensive, and they did not like his second plan for a cinder block addition on the existing Town Hall to create a T-shaped building close to sidewalk, they also pointed out that the committee had not been authorized to tear down the old Town Hall and the reserve fund was actually for a different purpose, buying land near the school and erecting a building there, so they could not use it for the Town Hall. They recommended that the Town Hall be left alone, and the land be purchased near the school and that the annual appropriations be continued. The meeting voted to enlarge the committee and to empower it to buy land and secure plans for a future town meeting. The committee did secure an option to buy the Fifield lot on Highland Street, but the lawyers told the town trustees that money could not be released for that purchase until the entire project was funded. The committee members then resigned. The March 1948 meeting voted to change the purpose of the reserve fund to remodeling the Town Hall into a combined gym, assembly building and Town Hall. A new building committee was appointed to remodel the Town Hall. In the meantime, the School District meeting voted money to buy the Fifield lot. The new committee reported back at a special May 1948 meeting that they had met with two architects and that attempts to plan the remodeling of the Town Hall had convinced the committee that it could not be done with the money available. They proposed erecting a new building costing $89,000 on the Fifield lot. The Budget Committee disagreed, voting against the proposal, thus prevented the meeting from approving the appropriation. But the meeting did vote to continue the building committee with a vote of confidence and to change the purpose of the reserve fund from remodeling the Town Hall back to building an assembly building near the high school. The March 1949 town meeting voted to transfer the capital reserve fund to the school district, which in June voted a bond issue to build a $90,000 assembly building. The work was soon underway, and the building, today's school gymnasium, was ready for its first use for the high school graduation in June 1950.
The new assembly building-gymnasium took over most of the functions of the Town Hall. So the building was quite underused when fate gave it a new role. On December 28, 1951, fire of unknown origin totally destroyed the school shop building, a two story wooden building that stood on School Street in that strip of land that now contains the Community Garden. That evening the school board met and decided to ask the selectmen to use the old Town Hall. The school board successfully petitioned the superior court to hold a special school meeting to acquire the Town Hall and to use the insurance money to equip a new shop there. On February 7, 1952, a special town meeting voted to deed the Town Hall to the school district. That meeting was immediately followed by a special school district meeting that voted to accept the Town Hall and voted to raise $8404.68 over and above the insurance money which was $11,040.30 to remodel the shop and replace the equipment lost in the fire. This was based on an estimate by builder Colby Lyford of $14,150 for the remodeling. However, the Budget committee reported that the tax rate was going to rise 25% with the school and town appropriations. So the school board decided, after consulting with Lyford, to use only the insurance money and not the $8404 appropriation, delaying the conversion of the upper floors until a later date. Lyford was at work on the new shop by March before the property was actually deeded to school district in April and he had practically completed the work by May. The replacement shop equipment was delivered in the summer and the new shop in use in the fall of 1952. The March 1953 school district meeting appropriated $8100 to complete the renovation. The school board approved plans for the second floor with the home economics and music rooms in April. Lyford returned to work and the renovations of the second floor were completed by September of 1953, in time for new school year.
The renovations divided the lower main hall into two stories with the shop occupying the first floor, the music and home economics rooms in the new second story and the third stories. The new second story had two classrooms, the large home economics kitchen in the rear, a smaller classroom in the middle, and a corridor with two restrooms and a storage space in the front of the building. Exterior changes during the school era included the wooden porch at the main entrance, a garage door in the south side to serve the shop and house the driver education car, and new windows and a fire escape door in the rear wall for the large home economics room. In 1959 a walk was built besides the school gym to provide a better passage to what was now called the vocational building. The Town Hall yard was paved in 1964.
The new classrooms were however not perfect. The small classroom on the second floor had “almost no windows and no ventilation”. The noise from the shop rose to the floor above. The state department of education evaluated the spaces in 1964 and expressed concern about the safety and health of students using the third floor and small second floor classroom. The state suggested that the third floor no longer be used and that the second floor be used only for home economics. A “partial evacuation” of the building followed the next year, which made the school's space problems even worse. By 1967, the gym stage was being used for study hall and classes were being held in the Ober School storage area and the Episcopal parish house. Because of the substandard facilities, the high school's approval rating was downgraded to provisional. The principal and superintendent reports in the mid to late 1960s harp on the need for more space. In April of 1969, the voters authorized the construction of additions to the Ober school, which included new classrooms for industrial arts and home economics. Ground was broken in November of 1969.The fall of 1970 saw the new classrooms in use and the Town Hall empty again.
Town Offices Era
The March 1970 school district meeting voted to transfer the Town Hall back to the Town, but reserved the right for parking on the lot for all school purposes. At the March 1970 town meeting it was explained that the school district had been approached about donating the Town Hall to the town, as the property was being considered as the site for a new fire house. But, that 1970 town meeting rejected an article to accept the Town Hall property from the school district by a vote of 47 yes to 95 no, probably because the voters did not want a fire house there. The following year, the selectmen made it clear that they had other plans for the old Town Hall, as they wished to relocate the town offices there. The offices were then in the old town garage where the Mechanic street parking lot now is. The selectmen explained in a newsletter that the fire underwriters were “but one step away from condemning” that building and that its set up was not good for official functions, and that the Town Hall would allow all town offices in be in one location on the ground floor and easily accessible to all. The warrant article for the March 1971 town meeting was to accept the Town Hall from the School District, per the District's 1970 vote, to be used for town offices and with the understanding that the property would not be used for a fire station. At the meeting, the article was amended to drop the references to the town offices and fire station and to accept the property without restrictions on its use. The amended motion was approved with just one dissenting vote. In June, the school board deeded the property to the Town reserving the parking rights for all school functions. The 1972 town budget included $4000 to fix up the Town Hall for offices. The town offices moved in September of 1972 into the second floor, “at very little expense” with offices in the larger class room to the rear and I believe meetings in the smaller classroom. The police station had been in the old fire house, but there were already plans to demolish that building and build a new fire station. The police station was also moved in 1972 to the rear portion of the first floor, where three rooms were created out of part of the old shop classroom. The work was done by the police and their auxiliary, with the only cost to the Town being the materials and the electrical work. In 1975, a fireproof vault for town records was built in the rear corner of the first floor with concrete blocks and reinforced concrete. The selectmen wanted to move the town offices to the first floor, as was the original plan when the town acquired the building. But, warrant articles to borrow money for that purpose were voted down in 1979 and 1980. However, at the March 1984 town meeting, the voters agreed to use $30,000 of federal revenue sharing funds for the Town Hall renovation, followed by a vote in 1985 to use another $6500 from the Federal revenue sharing funds to complete the work. The move to the first floor was made in 1984. This renovation included replacing the garage door on the side of the building with a pedestrian door, and subdividing the remaining space on the first floor for the town offices. In July of 1991, the selectmen approved moving the utility offices to the Town garage. The electric office moved in 1992, and the water & sewer office in 1993. In the same period, the police department was given more room. The police chiefs had asked for more space as early as 1974. The department did not meet federal and state regulations for handling juveniles or preserving evidence. Plans for the expansion and renovation of the police station were finalized in late fall of 1991; the bulk of the work was done in 1992. With the help of many volunteers and the donation of materials, the project was completed with little expenditure by the town. It included the conversion of the former town manager's office to a conference room used by both the town office and the police, a stairway to the second floor and the subdivision of the large home economics classroom for various police offices and functions. The November 1993 shooting in the Newbury town offices by a mentally troubled man, which ended with two town employees dead and one wounded as well as the suicide of the shooter, prompted changes in the town office to improve security by limiting public access. There had been a central walkway into the town office space with counters on both sides for the town office and the utilities. That was cut off by the present shorter counter. A storage area was remodeled as a public room where the tax maps, etc. could be accessed. 1996 saw the construction of a new police department entrance designed by Samyn D'Elia Architects. Smaller changes to the building in recent years have included more efficient lights, a secure caged area for the Police department on the third floor, carpeting and tiling of floors, in part to remove or cover the old asbestos tiles, and various other repairs and upgrades, which continue this year with the installation of a fire alarm system. The major change to the grounds was the creation in 1976 of the landscaped area along the street front of the parking lot, as part of the American Revolution Bicentennial commemoration. This included a monument to the American Revolution soldiers from Holderness which was dedicated on July 4, 1977. That area was originally just grass with trees and the monument, but is now a garden with two benches, and, as of Monday, a memorial to Selectman Norm DeWolfe.
The historical importance of the Town Hall was recognized by the federal government in 1983 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and locally during the 125th anniversary when its image was used on the commemorative plate and the buttons.
There are issues facing the Town Hall that need to be addressed- energy efficiency, handicapped access, space needs and layout, ventilation and air quality, deterioration of the historic windows, etc. The voters have been reluctant to deal with those issues, defeating an article for new windows in 2015, and this year, narrowly defeating an article to accept an LCHIP award for an historic structure report, a comprehensive professional study on the rehabilitation and future use of the town Hall. Another attempt to accept the LCHIP award will be made at the next town meeting. The voters have approved appropriations to a Town Buildings capital reserve fund, which has been used for some recent work at the Town Hall.
The Town Hall has given in its various roles 145 years of service to the Town of Ashland. The town hall and the old school are our most historically important public buildings. We hope that the Town Hall will continue to serve the community and still remind us of its historic past.
The History of the Ashland Town Hall was presented by David Ruell on September 14, 2017 the Ashland Historical Society meeting.