This is the first in a series of articles sponsored by the Ayer Historical Society. These were written byRalph H. Richardson in the 1980s on the history of Ayer and published in The Public Spirit.
By Ralph Richardson
Hear ye, hear ye, it has been brought to the attention of our town officials that through the relentless efforts of a few of our townspeople that a colossal and tremendous discovery has been made. On a dreary, rainy morning, volunteers from Ayer's Historic Commission and Society discovered a loose panel behind the "Great Hall."
Once the panel was removed, it revealed a narrow winding stairwell that was covered in cobwebs. It went under the stage and down between two dusty and sooty brick walls. Finally, after following the stairs slowly downward, there was an opening into a dark abyss which opened into an area that could only be described as a paper morgue.
There were boxes that had been stored there since the dedication of the town hall in 1878. After spending hours in that musty damp room dusting off these boxes and inspecting the contents they came across one that bore the name of Ralph Richardson, and inside were the articles he had submitted to the Public Spirit in the 1980s.
These series of articles had been Ralph's recollection of the history of Ayer and as such he was considered our official historian. The Public Spirit has been kind enough to allow the newly formed Ayer Historical Society in cooperation with the Ayer Historical Commission to republish these writings in memory of Ralph's 111th birthday.
These writings have actually been kept in the Nutting room at the Ayer Library and not found on some great historic quest, although it makes for a good story. Ralph had titled this article "A history of Ayer in 160 words."
For whatever reason I do not know, the editor of The Public Spirit has requested that I write a brief autobiography. In my sincere opinion, I have done nothing distinguished or praiseworthy. I was born in Ayer, in the house where I have always lived, on August 11, 1902, the second son of Edward A. and Clara E. (Page) Richardson. Seven of my ancestors, James Blood, Richard Blood, Samuel Davis, Sgt. John Larkin, Richard Holden, John Lawrence and John Page, were original proprietors and first settlers of Groton soon after 1655. My Shattuck, Sheple, Hartwell and Wright ancestors came to Groton a little later. My Richardson ancestors were newcomers, having moved to Groton in 1847 and to Ayer in 1887. A Page ancestor was an original proprietor of Groton and owned land in the territory now Ayer before 1664. A later Page ancestor was one of the first white settlers in Shirley. My grandfather, Alfred Page, moved to the territory, now Ayer, in 1839. He and my father had the distinction of having served as selectmen in both Shirley and Ayer.
My own town offices have been: registrar of voters, 1929-1933; commissioner of trust funds since 1934; moderator since 1927; Planning Board, since its establishment in 1955 except 1976; conservation commissioner, 1964-1978; and War Rationing Board, 1941-1946. Since 1956, I have been treasurer of Woodlawn Cemetery Company. I am a trustee of the Sandy Pond School Association. I have been a member of the Republican Town Committee since 1929 and served as its chairman for eight years.
Former offices include: secretary of Robert Burns Lodge of Odd Fellows 10 years; secretary of the Ayer Lions Club, 20 years; president and later secretary of the Men's Brotherhood of the Federated Church for 25 years; secretary of the Ayer High School Alumni Association 1929-1941; and president for five years of the Ayer Historical Society. Several of these organizations are now, sad to relate, defunct and nonexistent.
The editor was quoted as having had received favorable reader reaction, or response, to my two recent articles about Ayer's Old Groton Road, and, like Oliver Twist, cried "More! More! More!" Perhaps he and his readers would be interested in my capsule or abbreviated history of Ayer. Many years ago, the Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs, as part of its observance of an anniversary of its founding, published a book about all its member clubs and desired a history of all the towns where its clubs were located not to exceed 100 words. Miss Esther A. Stone, who was a member of Ayer's School Committee, 1931-1942, asked me to write such a history of Ayer. What an assignment for me, a verbose, detail-loving author.
After a long period of amendment, decision and profound deliberation, the following masterpiece was born. Although I tried diligently to confine it to the stipulated 100 words, the final document, submitted to Miss Stone, contained 160 words. I never knew whether she blue-penciled it further or whether it was ever published. Here is my attempt to cover the most important data in the history of Ayer in 160 words.
AYER -- The center and market town of the Nashoba apple district, famous for its many apple orchards and cold storage plants, called Nonaicoicus by the Indians. Ayer's territory previous to its incorporation in 1871 was a part of Groton and was very sparsely settled until the building of the railroads and the establishment of a railroad junction here in 1848. Around this junction, a village with several manufactories sprang up within a few years. Railroading was the principal activity for 80 years, until the extensive transfer yards and repair shops closed. Since 1917, the southwest portion of the town has been the location of Fort Devens, the largest military reservation in New England. Major Simon Willard, commander of the military forces of Middlesex County during King Philip's war and a leader in the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, lived in Ayer territory. His mansion, rendezvous for his dragoons, was burned by the Indians on March 13, 1676.