First, the train. Then, the resort. Finally, the town. That’s the short story of Ashland, a town that owes its existence to a railroad and whose character still is defined by the trains that run through its center. – CLARKE BUSTARD, 2007
Below are the highlights and major events in the history of Ashland, VA. As with most places, our history begins before the town was officially a town. Of course, many important events are left out of this timeline. Please explore the rest of the Museum web site to learn more of our town’s story.
1836-1840s—Industrial Revolution—Virginia’s First Railroad
Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Company lays first tracks to a mill near the Slashes of Hanover, birthplace of Henry Clay.
1840s to 1860—Antebellum Period—Slash Cottage Hotel Company to the Town of Ashland
Slash Cottage Hotel Company grows into a village and then becomes a town. Slash Cottage becomes Ashland. Residential lots are sold. The Ashland Accommodation train begins. The Ashland Racecourse is established. Ashland Baptists build a church.
1861-65—The Civil War—Soldiers and Refugees
The Confederacy rents the hotel company and the racecourse to train the Cavalry, and then refugees flood the town. Troop trains travel through town. Free black Betsy Hogg sells land for Woodland Cemetery to bury war dead. The hotel, the Ashland Baptist Church and homes are hospitals for the wounded. Skirmishes and one major battle threaten the town. The end of the war comes and the Ashland is a parole station. Reconstruction begins.
1865 to the Turn of the Century—Randolph-Macon College and a Building Boom
Because Randolph-Macon chose to move to Ashland the town recovers from the war quickly. A building boom adds to the antebellum neighborhoods and modifies some older homes, and there is a new Ashland Hotel across the street from the old one. Stebbins Corner becomes the commercial center of town. Rebuilding after the 1893 and 1900 fires established the business district almost as it looks today. Clinton Winston opens a blacksmith shop. Churches for white people, and for the first time for blacks, begin to appear. The Racecourse area becomes a new neighborhood. Free blacks establish Berkleytown, just north of town, and Jamestown and Providence Road just east of town.
1900 to 1945—Prosperity, War, Depression, and Segregation
The Ashland Electric Car Line is constructed. Town Council passes the 1913 Segregation Ordinance. World War I troops are trained at Randolph-Macon. Troop Trains travel through town once more. The Liberty Bond parade raises funds for “Over There.” The age of the auto means the demise of the rail. The new post office expands the business district eastward toward the new National Highway, US No. 1. Electricity and telephones transform life. The Depression brings hobos and the WPA. World War II brings more soldiers to be trained at Randolph-Macon College and the troop trains come through town.
1945 to 1975—Postwar Prosperity, Automobiles, and Desegregation
The business district expands to US 1. The trains no longer stop in Ashland. 1st and 2nd stoplights are installed. Schools are desegregated and Ashland High School becomes Patrick Henry High and moves out to the countryside. The Ashland Baptist Church moves to a new home and the oldest church in Ashland becomes the Hanover Arts and Activities Center. I-95 brings the “The Messy Mile.” The Shirt Factory folds. Downtown looks depressed.
1975 – Present—The Center of the Universe and the Historic Districts
125th and 150th Anniversary Celebrations bring new awareness to town. Dick Gillis is mayor. Street trees and sidewalks transform the Messy Mile into the Golden Mile. 200 buildings in Ashland become the Ashland Historic District and the self-guided walking tour begins. The US Post Office and the Dick Gillis branch of the Pamunkey Regional Library move into a new buildings in historic downtown. Passenger train service returns. The Main Street program comes to downtown. New neighborhoods and annexation expand the town. The Variety Show begins. Railroad Run begins. The 4th of July Parade begins. Street Parties begin. Restaurants come to town and stay.