Ashland is a picturesque rural community, near the geographical center of New Hampshire, nestled within the Lakes Region and on the southern edge of the White Mountain National Forest. The residential and resort community of Ashland is bordered on the west by the Pemigewasset River and on the east by Little Squam Lake (the original location of the movie “On Golden Pond”). Ashland offers many historical places, outdoor recreational opportunities, local artists and businesses to visit, as well as dining, shopping and other services.
Located in Grafton County, Ashland’s population is 2,196 (2015, US Census Bureau), with a median age of 39.7 years. Ashland contains 11.0 square miles of land area and 0.5 square miles of inland water area. The town is at the crossroads of several major transportation access points — US Route 3 (Daniel Webster Highway), US Route 25, NH Route 132, NH Route 175, and Interstate 93. Students in grades K-8 attend the local Ashland Elementary School and students in grades 9-12 attend the Plymouth Regional High School in Plymouth.
Additional data for the Town of Ashland can be found through the State of New Hampshire Community Profiles.
A Brief History of Ashland
By David Ruell, 1999, 2012
Ashland was originally part of the Town of Holderness. The township of Holderness was granted by the royal governor to a group of proprietors in 1751. But because of the French and Indian Wars, the proprietors were unable to settle the township in the time required by the grant. So the township was regretted under the name of New Holderness in 1761. (The “New” was dropped from the name in 1816.)
The first white inhabitants of Holderness settled in 1763. By 1771, there were enough settlers in residence to hold the first town meeting and set up a town government. Like most New Hampshire towns, Holderness was settled as a predominantly agricultural community.
The March of Progress
But, the Squam River, with its ample reservoir in the Squam Lakes and its several rapids and falls, offered excellent sites for water-powered mills. The river was first used in 1770-71 to power the town’s first mills, a sawmill and a gristmill. By 1810, one of New Hampshire’s earliest paper mills was in operation on the river. In 1840, the Squam Lake Woolen Mill was built. Paper and textiles were the principal products of the factories along the river. But other items, such as lumber and other wood products, gloves and sporting equipment, were also manufactured here. Textile manufacture continued on the river until 2002, when L. W. Packard Company, founded in 1916, ceased the production of woolen cloth.
The factories spurred the growth of a village along the river. In 1849, the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad connected the village to national markets. Commerce flourished in the village, as stores were established to serve the mill workers. The village developed its own institutions. Four churches were built to house the Baptists (1834-35), the Episcopalians (1859), the Methodists (1897-98) and the Catholics (1898). The interest of the industrial and commercial villagers diverged from those of the farmers in the rest of the town. So, in 1868, the southwest corner of Holderness was incorporated as the new Town of Ashland.
The new town saw a number of progressive improvements in the late 19th century. In 1871, a town hall was built and a public library (the oldest in continuous operation in the northern four counties of the state) was established. An impressive brick schoolhouse with separate grades was built in 1877-78. (It was followed by the establishment of a big school in 1910, with its own building in 1911.) Kerosene street lights were first lit in 1886, only to be soon replaced by electric street lights powered by the Ashland Electric Company, founded in 1888. (The town government purchased the power company in 1918 and still operates it as a publicly owned utility.) In 1893, a private company was incorporated to build a village water system supplied from Jackson Pond in New Hampton. But as the company was unable to raise the necessary capital, the town bought it out and built the water system in 1894. A fire department was organized that year, and the first fire station, which also housed the library and town offices, was built in 1895. (The library moved into its own building, the Scribner Memorial, in 1939.)
The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the development of summer resorts and homes on Squam Lakes. These early tourists traveled by train to Ashland and then by steamboat up the Squam River to their lakeside destinations. Later, the railroad was replaced by the automobile and the truck, served by modern paved highways. Two major highways were routed through Ashland, the Daniel Webster Highway (Route 3) which followed existing roads and the entirely new Interstate 93, which opened to Ashland in 1964. I-93 spurred more commercial growth, particularly around the interchange, and more recreational/residential development, notably near the White Mountain Country Club golf course, which opened to the public in 1977.
After World War II, the town government also grew. Immediately following the war, the playground was renovated by the volunteers of Booster Club. The Booster Clubhouse was built in 1948 to provide a community meeting place and recreational facility. The school gymnasium was erected in 1949. And the town beach was purchased in 1955. The town’s centennial anniversary in 1968 prompted the creation of Memorial Park in the center of the village and the establishment of the Ashland Historical Society. Nobel Prize Winner Dr. George Hoyt Whipple gave his family home for an historical museum in 1970. The Historical Society opened the Pauline E. Gladden Toy Museum in 1991 and restored the Ashland Railroad Station in 1997-98. A committee affiliated with the Society raised funds to build the Squam River Covered Bridge in 1989-90. The school system upgraded its facilities by building the Ober School in 1960 and later enlarging it in 1969-70 and 1997-98. (The high school closed in 1990, when Ashland joined a regional high school district.) The Squam River was cleaned up by the construction in 1968-69 of a village sewer system, which was subsequently extended to serve adjoining areas, notably north along the river to the lake in 2000-2002. The town built a new fire station in 1976-77 and a new town garage in 1979-80. The water system was switched from Jackson Pond to wells in 1997.