Downtown: Exhibit gives visitors tour of Ashland

Jul. 29—ASHLAND — You can tour downtown Ashland — now and in the past — via the exhibit "Winchester Avenue: Heart of our Downtown."

The heavy-on-photography exhibit curated by Heather Whitman offers a "road" to lead visitors through town, beginning with 12th Street and going block by block detailing buildings from the 1880s to present day.

"Winchester Avenue is the heart of Ashland's downtown, but this wasn't always the case," Whitman said. "Since the streets in Ashland were laid out by Martin Hilton in 1854, much has changed along this 'main drag.' Businesses, homes etc. have come and gone along Winchester Avenue."

For example, the Ohio River was crucial to doing business in Ashland, so many stores were on Front Street, which was along the river.

"Ashland's location along the Ohio river was historically both a blessing and a curse," Whitman said. "The river was a deciding factor for the Poage family in choosing the location for their home. However, the river can also flood and prior to the construction of the flood wall, Ashland suffered from several mass floods. For this reason, many businesses began to build and move to a safer distance from the water on Winchester Avenue in the early part of the 20th century."

The idea for the exhibit came to Whitman after a visit to the Cincinnati History Museum, whose "Cincinnati in Motion" exhibit makes use of a train-sized model of Cincinnati to illustrate the changes in the city.

"I knew I couldn't do something with models, but it got me thinking about doing a walk-through exhibit with photos of the same area over different years," she said, noting she chose to highlight the downtown section of Winchester Avenue; it has been photographed a lot and Whitman said she found the area's history especially interesting. "I used the old Sanborn maps to help me pin down what was located where and when." Sanborn maps are detailed maps of U.S. cities and towns in the 19th and 20th centuries. Originally published by The Sanborn Map Co., the maps were created to allow fire insurance companies to assess their total liability in urbanized areas of the United States.

The exhibit features:

* The Kitchen-Whitt Wholesale Grocery building where Sonic Drive In is now. Across the street was the Ventura Hotel.

* Photos of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which was a forerunner of the First United Methodist Church, also known as the Chocolate Church.

* Josselon Brothers Furniture Store and the McCleary Building on the 1400 block.

* The Colonial Theater and The Grand theaters, Stecklers and the Ashland National Bank.

* First Presbyterian Church, which is the city's oldest church; Merchants National Bank, the old U.S. Post Office and Parsons Department store.

* Field Furniture Company, which would become Sears; the Henry Clay Hotel and the original First Baptist Church building.

Guests of all ages are welcome to make a rubbing of an old map of Ashland that they may take home, Whitman said.

Sponsored by Community Trust Bank, the exhibit will be open through October.