One of the more stunning homes and parks in Massachusetts is located in Easton, known as the Borderland State Park. Borderland was the 1,200-acre estate of Blanche Ames Ames, an artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage and birth control. Blanche Ames’ husband, Oakes Ames (of the Ames Family of Easton), came from a wealthy Massachusetts family that owned the Ames Shovel Works. Marrying in 1900, Blanche and Oakes (who were not related even though they had the same last name) constructed their stone mansion in 1910 and created a system of ponds and dams on their property. Blanche and Oakes, who wanted a fireproof house, became displeased with the work of their architect because of the challenges he faced with their design and engineering requirements. Dismissing the architect, Blanche took over the design and construction management of the mansion and hired the Concrete Engineering Company to draw plans according to her specifications. Also on the grounds is a hunting lodge with fireplace, overlooking the large pond on the estate.
Once the mansion was completed, Blanche set up a studio on in the house and developed a scientific color system for mixing paints. She became the sole illustrator of her husband’s botanical books (Oakes was a renowned authority on orchids and taught botany at Harvard from 1900 until his retirement in 1941). Later in life, Blanche became the co-founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts and the Treasurer of the League of Women Voters from 1915 to 1918. She also gained notoriety for her political cartoons depicting the struggle for women’s suffrage. In addition to these many accomplishments, Blanche was an inventor who, in 1939, designed a hexagonal lumber cutter. During World War II she designed, tested and patented a method for ensnaring enemy airplanes in wires hung from balloons. Remaining active her entire life, Blanche received a patent for a water anti-pollution device in 1969, a year before her death.
Located across the street from the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall and the Ames Free Library, the North Easton Savings Bank and Post Office building perfectly compliments the Romanesque Revival motif seen in the village. The building was constructed in 1904 in a Richardsonian Romanesque design with rough-faced granite ashlar walls with brownstone trim. The three-bay front façade contains centered entrances recessed behind a wide brownstone arch in the signature Richardsonian manner. The building was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, a Boston-based architectural firm which grew out of Henry Hobson Richardson’s office, where they completed many of Richardson’s unfinished works after his death.
The Ames Free Libraryfirst opened its doors in 1883. Under the terms of the will of Oliver Ames II, $50,000, in trust, was left for the construction and support of a library for the benefit of the inhabitants Easton. The library was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in 1877 and opened in 1883, becoming one of the finest public libraries in the region. The library is built of Milford granite with the same Longmeadow trim used on his famous Trinity Church in Boston. The very low cavernous arch over the doorway was used here by Richardson for the first time and became one of the most prominent and widely imitated characteristics of his style.
The Unity Church of North Easton, Massachusetts looks like it could stand toe-to-toe architecturally with the large churches in major American cities. The church was a gift to the Unitarian Society in town, by Oliver Ames II, who hired renowned Gothic architect Henry Vaughan to design a chapel, worthy of the town’s wealth. The church contains various tablets and memorials to the Ames Family, with stunning stained glass windows by John LaFarge, recently restored by the church! Behind the grounds is the cemetery where many of the Ames family members are buried.
Located on Main Street in Easton, the Oliver Ames Jr. House exemplifies the romanticism of the Italianate style in the mid 19th century. Built in 1864, the home, known as “Unity Close”, was designed by George Snell, a Boston-based architect. Oliver Ames Jr. was a son of Oliver Ames Sr., who along with his brother, Oakes Ames, joined the family business at the Ames Shovel Works in town. The home has a massive garden at the side yard, originally designed by the Olmsted Brothers, John and Frederick, the sons of the great Frederick Law Olmsted.
I’m starting to see a trend in Easton, almost everything is named after the Ames Family! In 1893, Oliver Ames (1831-1895), a grandson of shovel company founder Oliver Ames and son of Oakes Ames, offered to fund the construction of a new high school building if the town would pay the cost of building its foundation and grading the site. While governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1887-90), Ames had hired Boston architect Carl Fehmer as consulting architect to the State for the extension to the Massachusetts State House, and it was Fehmer who secured the design contract for the new school in Easton. The refined Colonial Revival school building features a central pavilion with an entrance set within an ornate stone architrave with a Classical entablature with central pediment. The school was outgrown in 1957 and became the town’s middle school, outgrown again in the 1990s. The town sold the school to a developer with preservation restrictions and it is now used as apartments!
Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893) was born in Easton, MA, the son of Oliver Ames Jr. who ran the Ames Shovel Works in town. On the death of his father in 1877, Frederick became head of the Ames & Sons Corporation also inheriting upwards of six million dollars, which he invested in railroads. From this, he eventually became Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts! Due to his role for the Old Colony Railroad, Ames had a rail station built in his hometown, adjacent to his family’s factory. Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed many other buildings in town for the Ames Family, designed this station in his signature Richardsonian Romanesque style with its large arches, varied rustication of stone, and brownstone trimming. The building was completed two years before Richardson’s death. Rail service here was cut in the 1950s, allowing the Ames family in 1969 to buy the station back from the consolidated New York Central Railroad, gifting it to the Easton Historical Society.
In the early 20th century, the village of North Easton, Massachusetts saw large growth, in large part by the Ames Family. The town had previously had a volunteer fire station, but due to the development, a permanent fire department was needed. In 1904, Mary S. Ames (later Mrs. Louis Frothingham) donated land for the purposes of building a fire station; across from the Ames Shovel Works. The fire station, completed in 1905, remained active until 1968, when the town’s modern firehouse that could accommodate larger fire apparatus was constructed. In 1991, the former fire station became the home of the Children’s Museum in Easton, which it remains to this day.
There are few buildings that make you stop and stare in marvel at their perfect architectural proportions, detailing and design, the Ames Memorial Hall in Easton, Massachusetts is one of them for me! In the late 1870s, the children of Oakes Ames commissioned the great American architect Henry Hobson Richardson to design the Memorial Hall as a tribute to their father. Richardson, the architect of Boston’s beloved Trinity Church in Copley Square, responded with a picturesque masterpiece using his signature architectural elements of rounded arches, dramatic roof lines, and heavy masonry adorned with carvings. The building was provided to the inhabitants of Easton “for all the ordinary purposes of a town hall”. Oakes Ames (1804-1873) was partner in the family business, O. Ames & Sons, a U. S. congressman, an early investor in the Central Pacific Railroad, and, at the urging of President Abraham Lincoln, a prominent force in the building of the first transcontinental railroad. The Richardsonian Romanesque building stands on the solid foundation of a natural ledge, from the northeast corner of which rises the beautiful octagonal tower, on whose frieze are carved the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Oliver Ames began producing shovels in North Easton, Massachusetts at three pre-existing factory sites in the early 1800s. By 1852, O. Ames & Co., now run by Oliver Ames’s sons, Oakes and Oliver, Jr., was prompted to construct stone shops on the west side of the Shovel Shop Pond. In 1851, the original shovel shop was destroyed by fire. The company would soon rebuild, and by 1852 the first of the new shops, of fireproof stone construction had been completed. From 1852 to 1953 the company hired hundreds of men, women, and boys to make dozens of different kinds of shovels as well as hoes and, later, lawn and garden tools. Strong demand for shovels would continue in the mid 19th century, with the great expansion of railroads and later the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln personally asked Oakes Ames to supply shovels to the Union Army, and he obliged. By 1879, the company is said to have produced 60% of all the shovels in the world!! The Ames Shovel Company ceased production in Easton in 1952. After, the buildings started to suffer from neglect with only a few buildings occupied by commercial uses. Thankfully, in 2014, the complex was redeveloped into a local YMCA and apartments as the Ames Shovel Works Apartments!