Historic district proposed to govern future aesthetics of downtown Ashland
A proposed Ashland Historic District outlined in dark blue, was discussed at the Jan. 17 meeting of the Select Board. Source: www.ashlandmass.com
By Theresa Knapp
For the last few years, Jim Neilsen of the Ashland Historical Commission has been thinking about the demolition of buildings in town and how to preserve the character of the downtown area.
Neilsen said creating a local historic district (and related preservation bylaw) “is the only guaranteed way to have some say over what goes in in the downtown.”
Currently, said Neilsen, “There’s nothing really preventing anybody from taking anything [historic buildings] down if they really wanted to (the demolition delay is for a set period of time). I looked around at what other towns did for conservation and preservation, and what our mission is, which is the preservation of historic and cultural artifacts and buildings in the town of Ashland.”
Neilsen said, even though there are signs on Main Street that say “Welcome to the Historic District of Ashland” – “Those signs are just signs, we do not have a local historic district.”
He and his board have met with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and have worked with an historic preservation consultant to draw a map of the proposed district.
Neilsen said, “The proposed district literally starts at the Ashland Historical Society (the Ocean House), it continues along Main Street to the mill buildings…then down to The Corner Spot, the building next to the church, down that side of the street all the way down and around to where Erica’s is right now (the restaurant) – that includes the library, that includes all those buildings on Front Street right there. And across the street, it goes from The Corner Spot all the way down to the Post Office which includes the Town Hall, John Stone’s, the fire station, around the corner to the Post Office, across the street to the old pharmacy, the building next to it, then across the street to the railroad station, and back around.”
Neilsen said that not all buildings in the district are historical but if a building were to be torn down, any new construction would have to abide by the guidelines of the proposed bylaw which would influence the exterior architectural aspects of buildings within the district.
“There’s nothing about use or anything like that, people can do whatever they want with their buildings or properties; what this is, is strictly for what you can see from the street. So, if there’s something behind the building, or backyard, or something like that, it wouldn’t be historically relevant, it doesn’t matter – it’s what you can see from the street.”
Neilsen said that none of the buildings within the proposed district are on the National Register of Historic Places except for Town Hall.
Ashland Historical Commission member Helen Nickole said, “We do want to install, in the community itself, a sense of history and a sense of place that you have when you belong in a community, and when you have the history of the community sitting right there so that you have – what is the downtown historic district, or the downtown village area – it’s very important for it to remain in character and this will greatly help towards that end.”
The Historic Commission should soon receive a final report from the historic preservation consultant; they will work with town counsel to draft a bylaw for fall town meeting (which will require a two-thirds vote to pass); they will meet with various town boards and hold public forums to discuss the proposal.