By Greg Glassner
Ashland residents take pride in the fact that their charming little town by the tracks dares to be a bit different from other places on the map.
The flamboyant slogan, “The Center of the Universe,” may be regarded as something of a reach by envious residents of other Central Virginia hamlets. On the other hand, who can dispute it?
Ashland is unique.
I discovered that for myself in 2004 when my late wife and I moved to Ashland and I began work at the Herald-Progress. When I applied for the job as editor of the H-P, I said I wanted a late-career challenge after nearly 18 years at a newspaper in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
I thought it would be a hard sell to my wife. She surprised me by saying, “Go for it.” The change of address was made more attractive by the fact that she had two aunts and 16 cousins living in Hanover and Caroline counties.
When I informed my old publisher that I was leaving his employment to try to pick up the pieces after the death of legendary Editor/Publisher Jay Pace and subsequent sale of the H-P, he sent me a terse note: “Good luck. You have big shoes to fill.” (Newspaper publishers, for the most part, are not the sentimental sort.)
Well, he was right about the challenges I faced, but I quickly discovered that the folks of Ashland and Hanover County loved their hometown newspaper enough that most of them were willing to cut the new guy on the block some slack.
In more than 40 years in the business, I developed a conviction that newspapers need to inform and entertain their readers, and that they need to reflect the personality of their community – and to at least some degree the personalities of the people who work at the paper.
Since my first year at the H-P coincided with the Musical Variety Show, I was quickly immersed in that facet of Ashland’s personality.
The next demonstration of the little town by the track’s personality was the Independence Day Parade and Celebration, another production of the Hanover Arts and Activity Center.
The non-motorized parade with its Basset Hound Brigade, Lawn Chair Brigade and scores of children on red-white-and-blue festooned tricycles, bicycles and wagons, is a sight to behold.
When you top it off with a concert of patriotic music, children’s lawn games – and hot dogs and home-baked apple pies – well, you can’t get more small-town American flavor than that, can you?
In 2006, when my wife was battling cancer, we invited a cousin, her preacher husband, and their two boys up from the Norfolk area for Independence Day.
“Come early and catch the parade,” we said.
“Oh, we’ve seen plenty of parades,” they replied.
“Come early, anyway,” we insisted.
They were completely blown away and we couldn’t pry them away from the concert and lawn games after the parade. “This is fantastic. We don’t have anything like this,” they later admitted.
Ashland’s annual parade and lawn party is absolutely free. You are welcome to purchase a slice of pie, or a sandwich and soft drink for lunch, but many attendees simply pack a picnic lunch, bring a blanket or lawn chairs and stake out a shady spot. And don’t miss the Friends of the Ashland Library book sale. I always stock up on summer reading.
If the mood strikes you, decorate a bicycle, or pop the family pooch in a Radio Flyer wagon and join the parade. The parade lines up at Henry Clay Elementary School at 10:15 a.m., Thursday, July 4 and begins at 11 a.m. The route runs over to South Center Street and concludes with the concert and lawn party at The Center.
It’s a tradition and part of what gives Ashland a personality all its own.