Article and photos by Jeff Belanger
John Stone’s Inn was originally built in 1832 and today is well known for its charming, old New England décor, its food, and its spirits–and not necessarily the kind you drink. Located next to the Boston & Albany railroad tracks and at the heart of Main Street in Ashland, Massachusetts, the restaurant no longer takes overnight guests. Well, not the living kind, anyway.
In 1832, Captain John Stone, a wealthy landowner who heard the railroad was going to come through town, decided to build an inn near the Ashland Rail Station to capitalize on the new traffic that would be coming to and through Ashland. Originally called “The Railroad Boarding House,” John Stone personally ran the inn for only a few years. He would eventually sell the establishment to his brother, Napoleon. During the early days of the railroad and of the inn, many famous faces stopped by–Daniel Webster even gave a speech from the balcony.
The establishment would change owners many times throughout its history. It would be renamed the “Ashland Hotel” by one owner, and in 1976 Leonard “Cappy” Fournier bought the Ashland Hotel and renamed it after its original owner.
I stopped by John Stone’s Inn on a Saturday afternoon in November just before it opened for dinner and got a tour from the current owner, Marti Northover. Inside, I found classic, old New England charm: high ceilings, solid wood beams, and several fireplaces to take the chill out of the Massachusetts winters. Over the fireplace in the bar area sits a photograph of John Stone himself, and behind the bar is a very interesting photograph taken from a night when a band was performing in the pub section. In one of the vertical wooden beams, you can very clearly see the image of a man with a big, black mustache, dressed in old-fashioned clothes.
The background on the current supernatural activities can be traced to a few events, the first occurring during a card game between Stone, three Ashland locals, and a traveling salesman passing through town. Folklore says that the card game turned ugly when the salesman was accused of cheating, and Stone hit him over the head with the butt of his gun with the intent of knocking him out. Unfortunately, the blow killed the salesman, and the group swore to secrecy that they would hide the body and never speak of it again. Allegedly the body was buried in the basement, but several owners have done some random digging and have found nothing.
The second tragedy to take place there was the unfortunate death of a young girl. She was the niece of one of the former employees and was very sick, and she eventually died while being cared for in the inn.
Marti took me to the basement, and I had to duck to walk around down there and repeatedly needed to dodge the many cobwebs. I saw the rocks that made up the original foundation, the old wooden beams that the building rested upon, and in the far corner was a very interesting bit of history. Several years ago, sewer pipes were being run to the basement of the building, and the workers broke through the cement wall expecting to find solid ground. Instead they found a hidden room.
The hidden room was a rest stop on the Underground Railroad–a series of safe houses, tunnels, and hiding places to smuggle slaves out of the South. The Underground Railroad’s activity peaked in the period from the 1830s to the 1860s. “[The workers] found a cot, a water barrel, and some old blankets [in the room],” Northover said.
We went back to the bar room, where the bartender, Jim Terlemezian, told me about the many ghost stories he has heard–and some he experienced.
“I definitely believe in ghosts, without a doubt,” said Terlemezian, who has worked at John Stone’s Inn for just over a year. “We came in on a Sunday to work a function, so I got in around 10 A.M. and worked until about 2 A.M., so I was exhausted. Everybody had cleared out, and it was just me and Marti. She was upstairs in her office, and I was on the first floor at the end of the bar. I went in to the back to change my shirt, and left the door open. As I take my shirt off, I hear a voice. I can’t tell you what they said–I couldn’t even tell you if it was a male or a female, but it was a young kid.
“I stopped what I was doing and came out [to the main bar] and said, ‘Marti?’ I thought maybe she said ‘Jim’ or something like that. But she wasn’t even here; she was upstairs. So I went back and continued to put my shirt on, and I heard another voice. It was an older voice–I was pretty positive it was a woman. I don’t know of any women spirits who are in this place, [but] there again it was one word, and I couldn’t tell you what it was. I heard two different voices on that day.”
It seems as though just about all of the staff has had some supernatural experience. Scott Campbell, part of the John Stone’s Inn kitchen staff, walked by as I was talking to Terlemezian, and said, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but are you guys telling ghost stories?”
Campbell has also been working at John Stone’s Inn for approximately a year, and he told me about two of his experiences: “The other day, there was a glass bottle of malt vinegar on top of the fridge. There was no one over there [by the refrigerator], and three of us were on the side of the kitchen. All of a sudden we heard a large crash. We were surprised and didn’t know what was going on, so we go over there and we see a bottle of malt vinegar on the ground. We said, ‘What the heck, you mean it’s not broken?’ Something that fell six feet to the ground should have definitely broken–it wasn’t very thick glass.
“Another time someone tapped me on the back, I turned around, and no one was there.”
One of the more intriguing stories involves a dress that is stored at the inn. Terlemezian explained, “Supposedly there is a dress upstairs on the third floor with blood stains on it. There was an old waitress/manager who worked here, and she brought her boyfriend and went up to the third floor, took the dress, and brought it out of here and had it in her trunk. She had a lot strange things happen to her, so she gave it to her boyfriend to hold, and he also experienced strange event–like being woken up in the middle of the night by strange sounds and voices.”
Marti Northover continued the story: “She [the waitress] came to me and told me, ‘Look, this is what I did, and I have to bring the stuff back here because at home all hell broke loose.’ She swears she heard noises, furniture moving, and she was freaked out even driving with the clothes in the car.”
Northover and the waitress brought the dress back to its rightful place on the third floor, where it still lies today.
When asked if Northover was a believer in the supernatural, she replied, “I am now. There are at least seven spirits in this place.” She believes these spirits are those of John Stone, the traveling salesman, the young girl, a manager who died about 20 years ago after being hit by a train while trying to push a car off the tracks, and possibly some slaves who never made it to freedom.
Some of the patrons have also seen some unexplained things, Northover said. “There was a woman here one night, and she sat in the table in the corner and called the waitress over and told her, ‘Do you realize there are three spirits in here right now? There is an old woman sitting down and waiting for someone. There is a man smoking a pipe pacing up and down, and there is another man.’ We smell pipe smoke all of the time–I even smelled it yesterday.”
John Stone’s Inn is a veritable hotbed of supernatural activity. Staff, customers, and passers-by all have their own ghost stories to share about this quaint New England restaurant. But remember, if you come for dinner, you may actually be dining with John Stone himself, so raise a glass in his name.