World War I ended on November 11, 1918. A March 1919 town meeting warrant article was “to see if the Town will vote to erect a bronze tablet with the names thereon of the soldiers who were in the war service from the town of Ashland “and raise the money for the same. Instead the voters decided to appoint a three man committee “to investigate the matter of a suitable memorial for our soldiers and sailors and to report at the next meeting”.
At the March 1920 meeting under an article “to see what action the Town will take in regard to establishing a solders & sailors memorial, make provision for quarters for American Legion and raising and appropriate money for same”, the committee reported and made two recommendations: a) that the Town give $300 to the American Legion Post to fix up the building where they now meet as a temporary HQ and should materially assist the Legion at some future time to procure a suitable clubhouse b) that the Town appropriate $4500 to rebuild Town Hall “as a lasting memorial in honor of the citizens of Ashland who were in the service of the country during the period of the war”, to enlarge the building, remodel the interior, install a suitable heating plant, and the building to be renamed Memorial Hall. The Legion was to have free use of hall for its events. The report was accepted and the $4800 appropriated.
In the meantime, L.W. Packard, owner of the woolen mill, had decided to proceed with the bronze tablet originally proposed. We do not have much info on the plaque, basically just two newspaper items: On April 17, 1920 the memorial soldiers slab which was purchased through the generosity of LW Packard has arrived and is an excellent one. As we understand it there was a mistake made in the names and it will be returned for correction. On May 29, 1920 the Soldiers Memorial tablet which was purchased through the generosity of LW Packard has been attached to the front side of the Ashland town hall. The tablet is of bronze and the best that could be made, costing nearly seven hundred dollars.
And that's it. There is no name of a maker on the bronze tablet. The tablet says “ERECTED by the Town of Ashland 1920”, but there is no record in town reports of any payment for the tablet, so probably Packard paid for it directly. But where he got it, I do not know. There is one name added on the plaque on a separate bronze strip attached to the plaque, so that must have been the mistake that was corrected.
The tablet was up in time for Memorial Day, but the newspaper announcement of the program for the day makes no mention of the tablet, although part of program was the Town Hall, and the newspaper has no report at all on what happened on Memorial Day, so it is not clear if was formally dedicated then or not.
On the Town Hall wall next to the main entrance, on the right as you are looking at the building, are four holes that correspond to the screws in the bronze tablet, so that is where it was, where the little glass fronted bulletin board is now. Since the Town Hall was to become the Memorial Hall, it was the right spot.
However the Town Hall did not become Memorial Hall. $4500 was not enough to do the work needed to enlarge and remodel the building. So the March 1921 town meeting warrant included an article for an “additional sum of money for the purpose of enlarging and improving the town hall”, but at this point there was some controversy as evidenced by two letters published in February, one from Ashland Dramatic Club in favor, saying that the town hall was a fire trap, insufficiently lit and heated, and not large enough. So a larger town hall was needed. A week later, a letter in response said that the Town Hall was not a fire trap as you could go out the windows, the town was spending too much and had too great a debt, taxes were too high, it would cost $15000 to $20000 to do the work, so we should not spend money on the town hall. At the meeting, the naysayers prevailed, and the article was dismissed. The meeting did rescind a prior vote for $500 for another purpose and added that money to the town hall fund. But because of that negative vote, the newspaper reported “at the end of the voting on the articles” “the World war veterans took their tablet from in front of the hall and took it to the Legion rooms. This was done because the town voted not to expend any more money for the improvements of the town hall which the voters had decided to call Memorial Hall in honor of the soldiers.”
At the 1922 town meeting, a similar article appeared. The meeting voted to adjourn to April and have the same three man committee report on the costs of the project. The April meeting had to adjourn to May to give the committee time enough to get estimates. But, in May, by a ballot vote of 118 to 97, it was agreed to appropriate another $7000 to go with the $5000 already voted. A five man building committee was voted in to work with the Legion on the hall. But then a motion was made and adopted that the $7000 be raised by assessing every voter on the check list the same amount. That would have been about $9 apiece, but that was a moot point. Because, of course, town meetings cannot change the tax system. The selectmen consulted Judge Young, former Attorney General, who told them the last motion was illegal and they had no authority to raise the $7000, so nothing happened.
The 1923 town meeting settled the issue. According to the newspaper, by then the majority of the members of the Legion Post no longer wanted to spend the money on the town hall. They now wanted the money turned over to the Post so they could build or buy a property “suitable to their own interests” which they would own and control. The March 1923 town meeting adopted “without a dissenting vote” an article to rescind the 1920 vote to enlarge the town hall, and to transfer the $5000 in the fund to the Legion Post. In the summer of 1924, the Legion used that money to buy the Ashland House, the old hotel on Monument Square, which was their headquarters for about a half century until they moved to the present Legion Hall in 1973.
Back to the bronze tablet. I don't know when the tablet was returned to the town hall, I have read all the newspapers through 1925 without finding any mention of its return. But maybe that was done with less fanfare than its removal. I do know that it was back there by 1949, when we will pick up its story again.
This presentation of the World War I memorial is the 3rd part of War Memorial talk delivered by David Ruell on October 12, 2011.