Railroad transportation was still new in 1836 when the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P) Railroad Company completed a single track from Richmond, Virginia, to a sawmill 20 miles north in rural Hanover County. At the same time, the RF&P purchased a 482-acre tract beside the newly-laid tracks near the sawmill to use as a source of wood and fuel for their trains.
Ten years later, RF&P President Edwin Robinson thought the area would be good for a resort. It was the right distance from Richmond for a day trip and country picnics popular at the time. Robinson’s resort, Slash Cottage, grew to include cottages for guests, a hotel, a ballroom, a bowling alley and a gas house for lighting.
In 1854, the RF&P began dividing a portion of the land into residential lots. They enticed Richmonders to build permanent or vacation homes in the Village of Slash Cottage by offering the head of household a free or discounted train ticket on the Ashland Accommodation Train which ran between Ashland and Richmond. Slash Cottage changed its name to Ashland in 1855 to honor native son Henry Clay, who had built an estate in Kentucky that he had named Ashland. In 1858, the Commonwealth of Virginia incorporated the town. The same year the resort incorporated as the Ashland Hotel and Mineral Well Company.
After the Civil War, Randolph-Macon College in Boydton, Virginia, decided it needed to be closer to rail transportation to survive. It purchased the 13-acre hotel site that was for sale. The buildings already there could be used as lecture rooms and a dormitory. In October 1868, the college held its first classes on the new campus in Ashland.
After floundering along with the rest of the South following the Civil War, Ashland began to grow. The population in 1860 was 148, and by 1870, the town had more than doubled to 491. At the close of the century, Ashland was home to 1,147 folks.
Businesses began to develop around the intersection of the tracks and England and Thompson streets. In 1893, a stable behind Mrs. Sinclair’s shop in the middle of the southwest block of the business district caught fire. It quickly enveloped the entire block, but did not spread to the residential area. Slowly the shop owners rebuilt, this time in brick with iron shutters, rear doors, and iron-front façades. By 1913, the streetscape in this block looked like it does today.
With the coming of the 20th century, residential neighborhoods developed. Grand Queen Anne and Eastlake style homes, with their turrets and fancy decoration, were built in the Race Course Addition. In the 1920s, impressive Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, and Georgian Revival homes were built in other areas. Today, many of these homes remain the same.
The RF&P built a new station on the west side of the tracks in 1923. Now it serves as the town’s Visitors Center. Established in 1983, the Ashland Historic District contains about 200 residences, businesses and college buildings. Ashland’s population has grown to 7,300, including about 1,400 college students.
Ashland Museum Inside Out
Ashland Museum Inside Out is project of the Ashland Museum to make Ashland’s history available to anyone at anytime. There are three presentation signs around town that provide an overview of the area. On the south side the Visitors Center at 112 N. Railroad Ave., there is a sign with information about Ashland’s beginning and its railroad history. In front of the Richard Gillis Library at 201 S. Railroad Ave., a sign presents an overview of the downtown business district. The third sign is in front of the Hanover Arts and Activities Center at 600 S. Center St. and provides information about the Ashland Historic District.
The newest installment of Ashland Museum Inside Out is the specific neighborhood tours included here – South Center Street, Race Course Addition, Historic Downtown Business District, College Neighborhood and Berkleytown.
Ashland Museum Inside Out is funded in part by a grant from CultureWorks championed by Altria, a grant from CSX, and by donations to the Ashland Museum Development Fund.
The Ashland Museum is located in Ashland, Virginia, at 105 Hanover Avenue just off the railroad tracks beside the Red Caboose.
In 2008, during the Town of Ashland’s yearlong 150th Anniversary Celebration, it became evident that there was a huge interest in the history of the town. As part of the final celebration, citizens filled the old gymnasium at Randolph-Macon College with exhibits of all kinds of historical information: family histories, oral histories, biographies of important people in the town’s past, church histories, histories of businesses, and more. Everyone became aware that the stores of artifacts and photographs tucked away in attics and under beds were in danger of being lost, and with them, important pieces of Ashland’s history. The 150th Yearbook preserved the some of the stories of Ashland, but more needed to be done.
A group of volunteers began the Ashland Museum with a small office at the Hanover Arts and Activities Center and a website in 2009. The museum rented a building in 2012, and volunteers began gutting it to make it useable. In October 2012, the museum opened its first exhibit. It continues to maintain an archives at The Center.
The Ashland Museum has on-going exhibits about the town history along with artifacts from the Town and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. In addition, the 1926 Red Caboose adjacent to the museum is open for visitors.
The museum is open on Saturdays from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, on Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, and by appointment. Throughout the year as a fundraiser, walking tours of the historic district are available. Several books and DVDs on the history of Ashland are available at the museum and on the website.
105 Hanover Avenue
Ashland, Virginia 23005
Mailing address: PO Box 633, Ashland VA 23005
Ashland Historic District
The Ashland National Register Historic District includes more than 200 homes, college buildings, and businesses dating from the 1850s to the 1920s. The three oldest buildings on the Randolph-Macon campus constitute a separate historic district.