The town of Ashland was born of coal and nursed by iron. Ashland became a borough on Feb. 13, 1857 thanks mostly to the presence of coal and the determination of individuals who regardless of the hilly landscape envisioned opportunity. Coal, not surprisingly, was indirectly responsible for the name given to the town.
A toll road, called the Centre Turnpike, wound its way through the area where Ashland is situated. It was a direct route from Reading to Sunbury.
The first interest in this area was the virgin forest for timber. With the discovery of 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. 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”. He persuaded John Penn Brock and James A. Hart, of Philadelphia, to go into partnership with him. The original purchase of 800 acres of land was made in 1845, and was named Ashland Estates in honor of Henry Clay’s home near Lexington Kentucky. Clay was a strong advocate of high tariffs on imports. When the tariff went into effect, it halted the flow of imported coal—mostly from Wales. Should the local landowners strike the mineral in this area they stood to profit greatly, through Clay’s efforts. Samuel Grant later bought Burd Patterson’s interest in the tract.
John Brock handled most of the land deals. A stone house called the Brock cottage stood at Seventeenth and Centre Streets until 1911. It was taken down to construct the W.C. Estler School. In 1864, Brock died in London, England, but his heirs took over his affairs until the Ashland Estates was sold to the Philadelphia and Reading, Coal and Iron Company in 1870.
In the fall of 1846, an experienced miner named Patrick Devine was hired to explore the coal veins crossing the tract of land known as Ashland Estates. In 1847, the tremendous task of clearing the land was begun. Samuel Lewis surveyed the site and Peter W. Sheafer, of Pottsville, laid out the town.
The first structure built was a frame hotel located at Third and Centre Streets. It was constructed on two lots donated to Joseph Larish to house workers hired to develop the town. It was called the Ashland House and was used until 1932 when a fire deemed it no longer useful. A service station for Geurney Zeigenfuse replaced. Ashland Downtown Motors currently occupies the site.
The first frame housing resembled company housed, built to attract immigrants. Native stone was used to construct many of the early buildings. Between Fifth and Sixth Streets on the south side of Centre, stood a stone structure. Built around 1850, it was used for the land deals made by John Brock. It also housed the harness and saddle business of John H. Kemmerer and a boots and shoes business of Clement S. Foster. After 1870, when Ashland Estates was sold, it was known as the Philadelphia and Reading, Coal and Iron Building. It was razed in 1999 to make room for a new office and parking lot for Dr. John Stefovic.
The first brick building was located on the NW corner of Centre and 3rd Streets. Built in 1852 by Col. J.J. Connors, it was known as the Patterson building. Thomas Patterson was Connors’ partner in the Wadleigh Slope, the first coal operation in Ashland. The building will best be remembered as Knapp’s Pharmacy.