Romanesque Revival brownstone buildings distinguish this district. Construction of the buildings along Ashland’s main streets on a ridge above Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay took place between 1884 and 1937, when Ashland flourished as a lumbering, quarrying, and iron ore shipping center. Ashland shipped tons of brownstone during the 1880s and 1890s, extracted from quarries on Basswood Island and along the Bayfield coast. Popular until about 1900, the easily worked Ashland stone—a dark-brown sandstone known for its richness of color—found extensive local use and became popular in midwestern cities, especially in Chicago.
Brownstone details lend the massive cream brick Wilmarth Block No. 2 (c. 1895; 200–210 Main Street W.) its polychromatic appearance. Its owner, local architect L. C. Wilmarth, gave the building a Romanesque Revival expression with rich texture and a weighty frieze. The Security Savings Bank Building (1889; 212 Main W.) designed by Conover and Porter also exemplifies Romanesque Revival. Polished granite colonnettes with foliated capitals support brick and brownstone arches, and the spandrels are filled with bricks laid in a dogtooth pattern to create a highly textured surface. The ground floor was altered in 1935 by a polished granite storefront that reflected the vogue for modernism. At that time, the stones at the second story and the corner quoins were refashioned to a smooth finish. Local architect Henry Wildhagen and Herman W. Buemming of Milwaukee designed the classical yet spare Ashland County Courthouse (1915; 201 Main W.). Set in the center of its block and surrounded by lawns, the symmetrical, three-story granite facade is enlivened by paired windows and pilasters and flanked by projecting pavilions.
In the Bristol Building (c. 1893; 317 Main W.), the expressive use of Ashland brownstone is remarkable. Quarry-faced stones are laid in alternating thick and thin bands, ending with a frieze of small, square stones with chiseled faces. This pattern continues in the gable. The creative use of stone, rounded buttresses, a broad arch around the semicircular window, and the interplay of voids and solids are Richardsonian Romanesque. Local architect Thomas Shefchik’s Northern National Bank (1921; 321 Main W.) is constructed of reinforced concrete. Four colossal Ionic columns in antis form a shallow portico, and the 4th Avenue facade has six engaged columns. Terra-cotta palmettes crown the gabled parapet. Like much of Ashland’s commercial architecture, the bank’s design draws on historic precedents, but the Bay Theater (1937; 420 Main W.) looked forward to a brighter future. It features a polished black-granite front and a marquee ornamented with chevrons; a neon-lit vertical sign, with the cinema’s name, rises from the marquee and curves over the parapet. Colorful interior murals remain intact.