March 3 Wednesday Last night the finishing shops
were burned to the ground by Quinns letting
his lantern fall into the varnish Oakes came
home from the fire about 4 Oclock much
more cheerful than I expected to see him and
went to bed OA and Frank came home to put
on dry clothes & went back and staid untill morning
Lavinia & Augusta were here awhile this afternoon
Fire! Most of the shovel company’s buildings, situated in”the most centralized areas of Ames production, ‘the island’ at the outfall of Shovel Shop Pond,”* caught fire and burned to the ground. On his nightly round, Patric Quinn, the watchman, dropped his lantern into the varnish. The subsequent explosion must have been quick and, given the nature of the combustibles, uncontainable from the outset.
Naturally, Old Oliver recorded the event as well: “last night about eleven O clock the finishing shop took fire and the shops adjoining it were burned down – Bisbes shop and the small one made out of the cole hous that was mooved from the hoe shop was saved – the fire took from the varnish …”**
O. Ames & Sons had caught fire before, once in 1844 and again in 1849. After the 1844 fire, the family “had bought a used fire engine,”** which was brought to bear on the 1849 fire. In that case, Old Oliver credited the engine with saving the day, noting that “if we had have had no engoin I think it would have burnt up.” **
This latest conflagration was different. As modern historian Gregory Galer points out, “luck was not on their side…[the used fire] engine was no match for the blaze, fueled in part by 12,000 well-dried, ash shovel handles; oil and varnish used to protect completed shovels; and the wooden building itself.”* The shovel shop was in ruins.
Evelina didn’t attend the fire, but she would have been able to see the flames from their front windows. The fire went on all night, her husband, sons and other townspeople present for most of it. There is no record of any injuries.
* Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, pp. 248-249
** Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection