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Early History of Ashland

The area where Ashland now stands was nothing but a tangled mass of virgin forest and thick under brush. In 1805 a company was incorporated to build a road to the follow the best route from Reading to Sunbury. The route angled its way between the mountains, through what is now Fountain Springs and on to Mount Carmel. The road took from 1807 to 1812 to complete, but it was opened to full passage in October 1808. A traveler could now from Sunbury to Philadelphia in a week’s time. Called the Centre Turnpike, it was a toll road with two stations located in the Ashland area. Gate #6 was at the foot of Broad Mountain, about three miles east of Gordon, and gate #7 was located a half mile west of Ashland, just above the hamlet called Germantown. The turnpike went out of service in 1885, but the existence of Ashland is directly attributed to that road.

The rolling hills that encircle the town created quite a problem for the large Conestoga wagons and stagecoaches. History tells us that the first man to inhabit the land was Jacob Rodenberger. Little is known about him, just that he built the crude log cabin that became a stopping-off tavern for travelers on the Centre Turnpike. We believe he may have been employed by the stage coach company that ran the turnpike. He was in the area from 1820 to possibly as late as 1840. Rodenberger’s tavern and barn were located in what is now the block between 7th and 8th, between Middle and Centre Streets.

The first interest in the area was the virgin forest for timber. With the discovery of anthracite coal in the region, and its growing importance as a fuel, there was a new attraction. A frequent traveler on the Centre Turnpike was a Pottsville resident, Burd S. Patterson. As he gazed up the sloping ravine running westward from the Mahanoy Creek, he envisioned a prosperous town- especially if coal were discovered beneath the ground. He was criticized for even mentioning the idea of a town in such a forsaken place, and it was referred to as “Patterson’s folly” but his faith was not dissuaded and he set out to purchase the land.

He persuaded John Penn Brock and James A. Hart of Philadelphia, to into partnership with him. They purchased around 400 acres around Rodenberger’s tavern from the Bank of Philadelphia at a uniform price of thirty dollars per acre. In the same area they bought the same the same amount of land from Judge Gordon, of Reading, for eleven dollars an acre. The original purchase was in 1845 and was named the Ashland Estates in honor of Henry Clay’s home near Lexington, Kentucky. At that time our country imported much of its coal from Wales. Clay was a strong advocate of the high tariff on imports. When the tariff went into effect it halted the flow of imported coal and, should the local owners strike the mineral in this area, they stood to profit greatly, through Clay’s efforts. There are more than twenty communities in the United States named Ashland.

In the fall of 1846, and experienced miner named Patrick Devine was hired to explore the coal veins crossing the tract. In 1847, the tremendous task of clearing the land was begun. Samuel Lewis surveyed the site and Peter W. Sheafer, of Pottsvile, laid out the town. Sheafer planned many of the towns in Schuylkill County. The main street was named Centre after the turnpike. Other streets followed the old Philadelphia rhyme: “Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce and Pine; Market Arch, Race and Vine.” Samuel Grant later bought Burd Patterson’s interest in the tract. It’s curious that Brock and Grant had streets named in their honor, but nothing carries neither Patterson’s nor Hart’s name. 

The first framed houses resembled company houses, built to attract immigrants. Before bricks were manufactured locally, native stone was use for the construction of many early buildings. Some of these early stone structures that remain are; the stone depot, the station house and St. John’s Episcopal Church. The first brick building was erected in 1852 for Col. J.J. Connors, a pioneer in the area coal operations. It was located on the northwest corner of Third and Centre Streets. The town developed rapidly, and by 1857 the population had grown to 3,500 with 500 buildings. Until this time, Ashland Estates was part of Butler Township. Corporation as a borough was granted February 13, 1857. Circa 1870, the Ashland Estates was sold to the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company.

Ashland Area Historic Preservation Society