The Ashland City Hall building, so familiar to residents paying utilities bills or meeting the mayor, has anchored a corner of the Plaza since 1891.

The Ashland City Hall building, so familiar to residents paying utilities bills or meeting the mayor, has anchored a corner of the Plaza since 1891.

Before a remodel 100 years ago, the brick building wasn't as wide or deep, yet it held the fire hose brigade, police station, council chambers, mayor's office, recorder's office and the library reading room.

Today, Boy Scouts who visit Mayor John Stromberg delight in seeing the old jail, which is located at the back of the building nearest the park. "When you go into the jail cell, remember to bring the key," advises Stromberg.

Employees in the finance department work in a large room outside the former jail. When the steel door is pried open, they can see a block-glass window that once offered a glimmer of hope to prisoners looking for a way out of the cold, damp cell. All natural light was eliminated when the window was blocked off with new construction.

In 1913, city leaders believed it was time to remodel City Hall.

The original building had two tall, arched entrances facing Main Street. Through these bays, police on foot and firemen pulling hose carts, and later riding horse-pulled hose wagons, would roll into action.

The police and fire stations now house administrative offices. "It's too bad the fire pole is gone," says executive secretary Diana Shiplet, standing upstairs on a floor that has sloped for a century, "because it would be an efficient way to exit."

During the remodel, a wooded addition brought the front facade in line with the adjacent building, a hardware store where Martolli's now serves pizzas.

Rectangular windows were installed during the City Hall expansion and the entire structure was covered in stucco and painted. The bell tower, which once rang when city councilmen started their meeting, was dismantled.

Untouched, however, is the Hermann Safe Co. vault, made by a San Francisco-based company that began in 1889. Barbara Christensen, the city's recorder and treasurer, says it's her favorite place inside City Hall. Protected behind the heavy steel door are documents dating from 1854, 20 years before the city incorporated.

A plaque that designates that the original building dates back to 1891 now hangs over a walk-up entrance on North Main Street.

"People used to go up those stairs to see the mayor," says Terry Skibby, 67, an Ashland historian and photographer.

In old clippings from the Ashland Daily Tidings, which started publishing in 1876, Skibby has found grumblings from citizens that the expansion was encroaching on the Plaza, even though the shaded area wasn't as wide as it is now.

Despite the changes, Skibby says that it's rare that a city hall has remained in one place for so long.

That's not the case in many towns," he says. "We're lucky it's still on the Plaza."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.