Tucked away behind the Ames Free Library in Easton, you will find one of the most stately examples of Gothic Revival architecture in a house in New England. The house is known as Queset House. Queset was commissioned to be built in 1853 and it was completed the following year for Oakes Angier Ames, of the wealthy Ames Family, who ran a shovelworks in town, and built some of the most handsome structures in the state. The house’s front portion design was drawn from a plan by noted architect Andrew Jackson Downing (who died in 1852). Downing collaborated with Alexander Jackson Davis who provided architectural drawings. The two architects created pattern books which greatly influenced Gothic Revival and Italian Villa style architecture for the next decades, with many wealthy people hiring builders to complete homes in their designs. Queset House is different than most in that the house is constructed of local stone. Oakes would later hire Harvard-educated architect John Ames Mitchell, (a first cousin of Oakes Angier and architect of the nearby Unity Church in Easton) designed the rear addition in 1873, adding the copper-clad chimneys. In the later years of his life, Oakes wanted to help further-improve his town and worked with his family to consult with starchitect H. H. Richardson and landscape starchitect Frederick Law Olmsted on projects in town (the Library, Town Hall, Rockery). After his death in 1899, the home was occupied by his son, famous theatrical producer Winthrop Ames, and his wife. The family would eventually gift the property to the Town of Easton, who today occupy it as an extension of the Public Library, open to the public!
Located near the banks of Leach Pond in Borderlands State Park, this handsome stone structure set the style for one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in Easton, the Ames Mansion. The one-story concrete and stone structure was designed and constructed under the supervision of Blanche Ames, and may have been a prototype for the construction technique used in the Ames Mansion, built just years later. Blanche was an amazing woman. She was an artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage and birth control. In 1900, she married Harvard University botany professor Oakes Ames (no relation). She took the married name Blanche Ames Ames. She illustrated her husband’s botanical research on orchids, and later got involved in designing the family’s country retreat. Originally designed as a warming hut during hunting season, this lodge was originally minimally designed with exposed stone walls. In the 1930s, the lodge was renovated to contain a living space, a kitchen, and a bedroom. When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired the Ames Estate in the 1970s for a state park, the Lodge was restored to its original condition. The hunting lodge is open to the elements and the public, who can warm themselves in one of the two six-foot fireplaces.
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.
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!
This stunning Victorian home in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard was built in 1878 as a summer home for Oliver Ames (1831-1895), a businessman, investor and Governor of Massachusetts. Oliver Ames was the son of Oakes Ames, who is credited by many historians as being the single most important influence in the building of the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad. After his father’s death in 1873, Oliver Ames became the executor of his father’s vast estate and business dealings, and spent vast sums of money on properties in the places he lived including North Easton, MA, Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. He summered at this large home fronting the ocean in Cottage City, then a part of Edgartown. He decided to run for state senate in 1879, after he was unsuccessful in securing passage for the separation of the Martha’s Vineyard community of Cottage City, where he owned a summer house, from Edgartown. Winning election, he saw through the incorporation of the town (now known as Oak Bluffs). Ames served as the Governor of Massachusetts between 1887 and 1890, and continued to summer in his beachfront home during that time. The eclectic Victorian home blends many popular styles at the time from the Shingle style with the continuous shingle siding, the Stick style with the delicate stick-work at the veranda, to Queen Anne with its asymmetric massing and square tower.