December 20, 1852


Monday Dec 20th  Was puttering about house most of the time

this forenoon  made some cake of sour cream

This afternoon here to tea  Mrs H & A L Ames

Mrs Witherell Emily & father & Oliver & wife

Have cut a pattern from Mrs Whitwells

cloak for Susan  Have not done much

sewing of course

Life seemed to be getting back to normal. The servants did the laundry while Evelina puttered about the house and did a little baking. In the evening, the family assembled for tea at Evelina and Oakes’s. Sarah Ames Witherell, Emily Witherell, Oliver Ames Jr., Sarah Lothrop Ames, and Old Oliver himself attended. So did Sally Hewes Ames and Almira Ames, who were still visiting; Almira would stay at the Ames compound well into the new year. Missing were Fred and Helen Ames – off at school, presumably – and Oakes Angier, of course.

The family was weighed down by personal difficulties: Oakes Angier an invalid in far-off Cuba and Sally Hewes Ames fed up and seeking divorce, not to mention the lingering loss of George Oliver Witherell earlier in the year. Perhaps other concerns occupied their thoughts, too. Like many other families, the Ameses drew strength from simply standing together. In the same way they had risen from the fire at the shovel factory back in March, they would do their best to prevail over the latest adversity. What a year it had been for them.

Yet on the horizon, a greater ill loomed which it is our readers’ advantage to know and the Ames family’s innocence not to foresee. Eight years later, on this exact date, the State of South Carolina would issue a proclamation of secession from the United States, kicking off the calamitous American Civil War.


December 2, 1852


Thursday Dec 2d  Have been very nervous to day

thinking about Oakes A   cannot reconcile myself

to his leaving home.  Have done as well as I

could about taking care of the hog but made

poor headway  Augustus & wife  Edwin & wife

Mrs Witherell & Mrs S Ames all came unexpectedly

to spend the evening and I have not even changed

my dress. But who cares?  Miss Alger has

given her 14th lesson


Back in North Easton, Evelina was still rattled by the bad news her son had received. She tried to deal with a butchered hog that her father-in-law sent her but could barely cope.

Oakes Angier had been told he had consumption. He was advised to go to Cuba, whose warm, humid climate was believed to be good for pulmonary tuberculosis. No other effective treatment was available. The Ames men – Oakes Ames, certainly – would have been active today investigating possible arrangements. Oakes and Oliver Jr. had a business associate, a shipping merchant named Elisha Atkins, who traded in sugar in Cuba, at a port called Cienfuegos on the southern side of the island. Perhaps they contacted him for advice.

All the Ameses, and the Gilmore clan, too, were upset by the diagnosis. Family members on both sides “all came unexpectedly” at night to show affection and alarm for Oakes Angier, the eldest cousin of his generation. The family pulled together, although Evelina was too shocked to appreciate the support, too sad to rise to the occasion. “I have not even changed my dress,” she noted pitifully.

Completely preoccupied by Oakes Angier’s illness, the folks at the Ames compound may not have paid much attention to the news that the Chickering Piano Company building in Boston had caught fire and burned to the ground.

“3 o’clock A.M. — Thursday Morning — The whole of the manufactory—an immense block structure, five stores high—is one mass of ruins. Mr. Jonas Chickering owned the building, and occupied all of it except the stores, which were improved by Messrs Thomas &Merriam, grocers, Edward Butman, crockery ware dealer, Amos Cummings, grocer. Very little property, in the building was saved. The devouring element spread through the building with terrific rapidity and soon the heated walls began to fall so as to endanger the lives of those who approached.

The building occupied the space on Washington street, between Norfolk place and Sweetser court. A portion of the side wall on Sweetser court first fell doing no injury, and the gable end of the side wall, on Norfolk place, fell over and crushed in the roof of the brick building on the opposite corner, which was on fire, and forced out the gable end. Both buildings were now one mass of fire, presenting an awfully grand sight. A part of the wall on Washington street, next fell and the flames swept across Washington street, threatening the destruction of the Adams House and other buildings on the opposite side, but they were saved. The attic windows of the Adams House were badly scorched.

The greater portion of the wall on Norfolk street next fell over on the opposite building, crushing it completely to pieces, and the walls of the next adjoining northerly, a three story, old fashioned block, and buried underneath the ruins, two watchmen, named Alfred Turner and Benjamin F. Foster, of the Boylston division. A large force immediately set to work to remove the rubbish, and after some time, were able to converse with Turner, and in an hour’s time reached one of his arms, but before the ruins could be cleared away, he fell into the cellar, and not just before putting our [news]paper to press been dug out. Foster, it is supposed lived but a short time.

The building on the corner of Norfolk place, opposite Chickering’s was five stories high, belonged to Deming Jarvis, and was occupied, the store by P.R. Morley, plumber, and the upper stories by Mr. Ladd, pianoforte key maker. They saved but a small amount of their stock. The building was insured. The old brick building next adjoining, which was leveled to the ground by the falling wall was occupied by Mrs. Wyman, as a boy’s clothing store and a dwelling house.”*

Was the Chickering Piano Company the place where Evelina and Sarah Witherell had purchased their pianos?


March 11, 1852



March 11 Thursday.  Cut out another waist of stout

bleached cotton cloth  Have been to Mr

Horace Pools with Mrs Witherell & Mrs

S Ames.  Met Henrietta Rachel & Mrs Harrison

Pool there, got home about eight Oclock

finished writing a letter to Harriet Ames.

Amelia went to Mr Torreys.

Old Oliver made his daily report:“the ground froze pritty hard last night – wind north in the morning butt southerly in the afternoon + pritty warm. it was a still day butt little wind – we began to rais the hammer shop to day.”  If ever there was an instance of Yankee industry, this cold, windy March in North Easton was it. Whatever the weather, all hands were on deck for the rebuilding of the shovel shops, which had burned to the ground less than ten days earlier.

While the men hammered, the women sewed – at least at the Ames compound. Evelina, anticipating warmer weather, worked on a new cotton dress. She had been fiddling with the waist lines on her dresses lately, suggesting that her waist might have altered. Larger or smaller?

With her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell, Evelina rode to the home of Horace and Abby Pool, where they met Henrietta Gilmore, Rachel Pool, and Mary Pool. This sounds like a gathering of the Sewing Circle, which we haven’t heard about since December when they temporarily disbanded. Now that spring had arrived, they might have started meeting again.

March 10, 1852



March 10th  Wednesday  Early part of the day

was sewing on a waist or rather cutting

it out and getting it to fit.  Augusta

came in this afternoon but as Amelia

& self were invited into Olivers she went

with us and Edwin.  Mr Ames came to tea

Amelia trimmed some pocket handkerchiefs

for me that Mrs Ames got in New York

The rebuilding of the shovels shops was moving along well. They “put the roof on the stone shop to day,”* according to Old Oliver, who watched each day’s progress carefully. It had been a full week since fire had destroyed most of the factory buildings. The response and reconstruction had been immediate!

Amelia Gilmore, the widow of Evelina’s younger brother, Joshua Gilmore, Jr., was visiting for several days.  She undertook the hemming of some handkerchiefs – essential components of a lady’s outfit – that Almira Ames had brought Evelina from New York City. The purpose of a handkerchief, a personal item dating back to antiquity, was primarily hygenic, used to wipe one’s nose or brow and cover one’s cough. In a time of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, cloth handkerchiefs were essential.  Their ubiquity necessitated their incorporation into the fashion profile.

Late in the day, the two went next door to Oliver Jr.’s and Sarah Lothrop Ames’ home for tea.  Oakes Ames went, too, and the newlyweds, Augusta and Edwin Gilmore, tagged along.



*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection


March 9, 1852


19th century oil lantern


March 9th  Tuesday  This morning finished putting

the sitting room chamber in order

Mrs Witherell came in with her work

for an hour or two. I sent for Hannah

Augusta & Abby this afternoon.  Abby

came in this evening  Augustus called  his

wife has the canker and was not able to come


Today “was a fair good day + pritty warm,” * accommodating weather for the carpenters working on the shovel shops. According to modern town historian, Ed Hands, the repair would be rapid enough to allow a resumption of manufacturing “in less than three weeks.” But what happened to the shovel makers during the hiatus? Were they kept on payroll? Or were they given unpaid furlough?

What happened to Patric Quinn? An Irish immigrant with a young wife and two small children, he was the watchman who had dropped his lantern into the varnish on the night of March 2d. He started the fire. Was he injured? Was he held accountable?  Did he stay on payroll? He and his wife Elisa, who sometimes did sewing for Evelina, remained in North Easton. They lived on Elm Street in one of the workers’s houses.

At the Ames compound, Evelina put the sitting room and parlor back in order. She and her sister-in-law, Amelia Gilmore sat and sewed.  They were joined for a time by Sarah Ames Witherell who was followed by young Abbey Torry and Augusta Pool Gilmore. Hannah Lincoln Gilmore was too sick to attend.


*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

**Edmund C. Hands, Easton’s Neighborhoods, 1995, p. 163

March 8, 1852


March 8th

1852 Monday  To day is town meeting.  George brought

sister Amelia here this afternoon  Have got

the carpet down in the front entry and 

the chamber carpet partly down

S Ames sent for the entry lamp for fear

I suppose that I should keep it but

she […] might not been alarmed

Carpenters have come to rebuild the shops

A new week signaled a fresh start. It had only been six days since the fire at the shovel factory, but the clean-up had gone quickly. The ruins were “dismal,” as Evelina noted yesterday, but the debris was mostly gone, hacked down, shoveled up and carted away. Carpenters had arrived to begin rebuilding, as Old Oliver, too, noted in his diary:  “some of the carpenters came on to day to build up our shops + Mr Phillips + his son came.”*

Life in the village was returning to normal.  Housewives, some with servants, tended to washing day. Children went to school and men went to town meeting.  As at church, the fire must have been part of the conversation as the men gathered to decide on town affairs and expenditures for the coming year. People must have wondered how soon the shovel shop would be up and running.

At the meeting, a new moderator, Alson Augustus Gilmore, presided. Not yet thirty years old, it was his first time holding the gavel; he would repeat the performance twenty-four times over the coming decades.  According to William Chaffin, Gilmore and his predecessor, Elijah Howard, Jr., “served with signal ability.”**

Evelina and her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, had a minor set-to over “the entry lamp,” which appears to have been a luminary that was shared by both houses. Sarah was evidently skittish about not having it, and Evelina was annoyed to have it commanded away.  No cause for alarm, she might have said. She wouldn’t have been annoyed for long, however, as a favorite family member, Amelia Gilmore, arrived for a visit. Amelia was the young widow of Evelina’s younger brother, Joshua Gilmore, Jr. She had lately been working as a private nurse.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection.

**William Chaffin, History of Easton, 1886, p. 637

March 7, 1852




March 7th Sunday  It has been a beautiful day and we 

have all been to meeting except Frank

When we came from meeting we rode down to

the ruins. They have cleared away a great deal 

but it looks dismal enough  Mr & Mrs William

Reed spent the evening  Mrs Witherell & Mrs

S Ames came in awhile & Father Ames

No work was done today at the site of the shovel factory fire, for it was Sunday, a day of rest – a day of rest that everyone in town must have welcomed after the shock of the fire and the subsequent hard work of clearing the debris.

The Ames family rode down Centre Street to church, the weather “beautiful.” At the intermission between sermons, they must have been approached by fellow parishioners expressing concern and curiosity about the fire. In a town of 2,500 citizens, such a huge event would have been on everyone’s mind. Is it too far-fetched to imagine that Reverend Whitwell might have alluded to it from the pulpit?

After the services, the family drove by the factory site on their way home. The wintry sunlight hid nothing; the “ruins” were “dismal.” Later in the day, several family members gathered at Evelina’s and Oakes’; even Old Oliver came over from the other part of the house, which he seldom did, perhaps to greet guests William and Abigail Reed or to discuss the plans for rebuilding, to begin the next day.

March 6, 1852



March 6th Saturday  Mr Scott whitewashed the parlour

& sitting room chamber this morning and I

varnished the front entry oil cloth.  Lavinia

came at eleven and Augusta this afternoon

Alson came after Lavinia and stopt to tea

Charles Pool came up and carried Edwin

and Augusta home to stay till Monday

I have been to work on a stiched pink apron

for Susan

A full moon shone down on North Easton this night, highlighting the charred ruins of the shovel factory.  Before it rose, however, Old Oliver took the opportunity of “a fair day”* to travel to Bridgewater, quite probably on shovel business.  He and his sons were developing plans to rebuild the factory, and some help for that would be found in Bridgewater.

Evelina’s way of coping after the devastating fire appears to have been to keep the domestic front moving smoothly. Redecorating continued, social calls were made and enjoyed, and sewing continued without a blink of an eye. Daughter Susan would soon have a new pink apron.

Years later, Evelina and Oakes’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, would credit his grandmother and other Ames wives with exerting a positive influence on his male ancestors. “They made the homes, reared the many children, saved their husbands’ money, encouraged their undertakings, and steadied them in failure and misfortune,”** he said. Evelina’s evident steadiness during this challenging period is one such instance of positive influence. Oakes Ames had come home from the fire “more cheerful” than Evelina had expected; she seems to have behaved with equal optimism. Though naturally sanguine, Oakes’ bright outlook and ability to cope in the aftermath must also have been bolstered by his wife’s unflappable focus on home and (redecorated) hearth. Together, they maintained continuity.

Charles Pool, Augusta’s eldest brother, drove up from southeastern Easton today and fetched his sister and her husband, Edwin Williams Gilmore, “home to stay” for a few days. Perhaps this visit had been prearranged, or perhaps it was an effort by the young couple to get out of the way of remnant smoke and disruption from the fire.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

**Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of North Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p. vi.



March 5, 1852


Charred Wood


March 5th Friday  Have been mending pants most all

day that were worn at the fire  Lavinia

went to Augustus’ this forenoon and Augusta

went this afternoon.  Mr Scott & Holbrook have 

finished painting the entry and chamber

got through about four Oclock.  I was in

Olivers about an hour this afternoon.  This 

evening received another letter from Harriet Ames


The women of Easton had work to do, too, in recovering from the factory fire.  Surely Evelina wasn’t the only housewife in North Easton who had to repair or clean clothes worn by their husbands, brothers or sons the night of March 2. Needles were out and laps were full as women all over town tended to the rips, tears and soot. Conversation probably centered on the fire as they worked.

The day itself was cloudy and cold, the smell of the charred buildings dampened by a light snow that fell overnight. Yet the cleanup continued. As the men worked at the site, hauling timbers and shoveling up debris, their blackened soles left ashy footprints in the snow, footprints that quickly turned into grime. Many a man was made to wipe or remove his shoes before entering his house for midday dinner.

Evelina stayed focused on her domestic responsibilities. Mr. Scott and Mr. Holbrook were back on task in her parlor, painting and papering, and finished up at the end of the afternoon. Evelina spent some time next door with Sarah Lothrop Ames, and got a letter from cousin Harriet Ames, with whom she had been corresponding lately. And perhaps under her direction, her niece Lavinia and niece-in-law Augusta were looking after their sister-in-law, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, who was laid low with a mouth infection and a weaning baby. Fire or no fire, life was moving forward.


March 3, 1852




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