Reconstruction, the Great Fire and the early 1900′s
At the end of the Civil War, Ashland, Hanover County and much of the South were bankrupt. But, when Randolph-Macon College came to town, the town of Ashland experience a building boom. New businesses were established to serve the residents, college students, faculty and staff.
When it became evident that the college would remain on the hotel property, the railroad company asked the college to build a replacement hotel. So college trustee A. G. Brown bought property at the corner of Henry Clay Street and Railroad Avenue and built a hotel. He sold it to a Mrs. Woodson, and she ran the hotel that was known at various times as Woodson Hotel or Ashland Hotel.
Clinton Winston, a former slave, established his blacksmith shop and undertaker’s shop at 117 Hanover Avenue, and next to it was his home. Louis Delarue, an immigrant from France, ran a saloon and general store at Robinson and Railroad Avenue on the east side of the tracks. Charles Stebbins, formerly a Richmond merchant, established a general store at the corner of Thompson Street and Railroad Avenue on the west side of the tracks. Today, even though the store building is long gone, the corner is still called Stebbins Corner. Just north of Stebbins Corner along the railroad tracks were Barnes Drug Store and the Post Office building that was next door.
This photo looking north from England and Thompson Streets was taken just before the turn of the century shows Stebbins Store on the west side of the tracks (left), Barnes Drugstore, the old U.S. Post Office building and beyond it the frame Hanover National Bank. On the east side of the tracks (right) is the freight depot and the water tower. Beyond the tower was the 1890s passenger station. Note the sidetrack to the east of the main track that is part of the wye, used to turn trains around.
D. B. Cox and his brother established a department store on the southeast side of the tracks next to the Cox home with a second-story bridge between the, two buildings. J. P. Gordon established his florist business across James Street from his home in the 1880s.
New churches were also established in this time period. Almost immediately after the war, African-Americans in Ashland began meeting at their own churches. Before the war, blacks were required to go to church with their masters. Now they could form their own congregations, and with the encouragement of Rev. Burwell Toler, a number of traditional African-American churches in the Ashland area count him as founder, including Providence Baptist and Shiloh Baptist. Union Baptist was a child of Shiloh Church in the 1880s. In the 1880s the Presbyterians established Zion Presbyterian for the blacks among their number. This church no longer exists. Among the white churches, only the Baptist Church had separated from the Union or Free Church to build its own building before the war. In the 1870s and 1880s, the Methodists joined with the college to build the Duncan Memorial Chapel, the Presbyterians built their house of worship on Virginia Street, the Episcopalians built a church on Railroad Avenue and Christians built theirs on James Street. In 1872 the Roman Catholics, who had not been part of the Union Church, established St. Augustine’s Chapel in a former schoolhouse on Railroad Avenue.
As the town grew during this time period, residents built new houses or updated older ones, which is why so much of Ashland has Italianate or high Victorian-style homes. In the 1870s the railroad company subdivided the racecourse property into residential lots, and many residences in that area reflect the architectural styles of the time. However, many of the homes in that neighborhood were built well into the 20th century, which is why there is such a mixture of styles there.
Just as the town seemed at its pinnacle nearing the turn of the 20th century, there was the great fire of 1893. The Dispatch of July 27, 1893, described the incident.
“This morning at 4 o’clock a fire broke out in a stable in the rear of the jewelry and millinery store of A. E. Sinclair. It spread with great rapidity…the neighbors turned out and worked as best they could with buckets of water and saturated blankets, but the devouring flames had gained such headway that soon the whole triangle, bounded by Railroad Avenue, Hanover Avenue and an alley-way on the south side, was a mass of fire. The Ashland Fire Department were early on the grounds, but owing to the fierceness of the fire, little could be done, as they only have a truck and buckets…help was asked for from the Fire Department of Richmond, and in as short time as possible…[Engine Co. No 5] was loaded on a special and run to Ashland by Engineer Harry Perdue in the short space of thirteen minutes.”
But by the time the help arrived, the fire had leveled most of the businesses in that block. With Richmond’s assistance, though, the fire was prevented from spreading to the residential section to the south.
Soon the southwest block of the business district was rebuilt in brick, with metal shutters and metal roofs—Hughes Drug Store, the relocated Post Office, Puryear & Napier general store, Meyberg’s sundries store and D. B. Cox’s new department store at the corner of Thompson Street and Railroad Avenue.
England Street crossing in Ashland around 1921. Mrs. F.W. Tucker, Jr., her son Bootie and Drewry Kerr on the tricycle. This photograph looking south from England Street taken after the turn of the century shows Cox’s Department Store, Meyberg’s Sundries store, Hughes Drugstore, the second U.S. Post Office and Puryear & Napier grocery. This line of commercial buildings still stands at the center of historic Ashland.
The town realized the importance of a fire company, and soon the Ashland Volunteer Fire Department was formed. The town built its first Town Hall at 112 Thompson Street with the mayor’s office and mayor’s court upstairs and the fire department garage downstairs. The jail was behind the town hall. Later that building was acquired by the Herald Progress newspaper and still bears the newspaper’s name at the roofline, although other businesses now occupy it. The little gable metal roof of the 1908 jail can still be seen at the rear of the building.
In the early years of the new century, Walter N. and Herbert J. Cross built Cross Brothers Market on the east side of the tracks, across from Cox’s department store and Hanover National Bank built their Beaux Arts edifice at 106 N. Railroad Avenue. The old passenger depot on the east side of the tracks was replaced by a fashionable new one on the west side of the tracks in 1923, designed by prominent Richmond architect Duncan Lee. Downtown Ashland at that time looked much as it does today.