June 7, 1852

Washing

June 7th

1852 Monday  Mrs Patterson went to Bridgewater

to see about her things that she left

there and returned this afternoon  Jane has

done the washing and I have been very busy

about house all day.  Mr Scott  Holbrook

and another painter have been here painting

the back entry chamber & Franks chamber

Scott has grained the stairway & painted the stairs

 

Dry weather continued, which was bad for the crops but good for the laundry. The white sheets and shirts must have dried quickly in the “midling warm”* sunshine and light southern breeze.  Today would prove to be Jane McHanna’s last turn at washing the Ames family’s clothes.

Old Oliver, meanwhile, spent part of his day, at least, observing someone’s construction project, as “Capt Monk began to move the hous[e] where Tilden lived to day.”* We don’t know who Capt. Monk was, but we do know that a team of oxen had to be assembled for that task. Were any of Oliver’s oxen used?  Did he lend a hand? It’s doubtful that he would have observed in silence, his instinctive leadership and irrefutable expertise too compelling not to use, or be asked for.

The Tilden whose house was being moved was probably Francis Tilden, a teamster who worked for the Ameses. He looked after the oxen. When an Old Colony Railroad line was extended to North Easton a few years later, in 1855, Mr. Tilden would become the expressman.  He would trade in his oxen for a rail car and spend the rest of his life conducting the train back and forth between Boston and North Easton. Oliver Ames Jr. often rode it, calling it “Tilden’s train.”

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

June 4, 1852

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The El Dorado Gambling-Saloon and the Jenny Lind Theater, San Francisco, ca. 1852*

 

Friday June 4th  Mr Scott has varnished the Oilcloth

in the dining room this afternoon and painted

the cellar way and commenced on the entry

chamber  I have been all day waiting on

him and getting the rooms in order to paint

and varnish  Dining room whitewashed

I shall be thankful when we get through

with painting

Probably every member of the Ames family – not just Evelina – was going to be thankful to be “through with painting.” Lately there had been too much disruption at the Ames compound; getting the rooms back in shape would help life get back to normal.

Disruption being a part of life, it was happening on a civic scale in the city of San Francisco right at this time.  The newspapers called it the Jenny Lind Swindle, so disfavorably did they regard the situation. The city government had just purchased the recently established Jenny Lind Theater to be made over into their administrative offices, or “business chambers,”* the previous city hall having burned down the year before.

Built by an illiterate but entrepreneurial cabbie and bartender from New York named Tom Maguire, who was “profoundly ignorant of the stage,”* the Jenny Lind Theater had nonetheless opened the previous fall with much acclaim for its “handsome” interior. Within its “exquisite” walls, “the rowdy populace embraced” shows as diverse as Shakespeare and burlesque. Exactly why Maguire sold the building to the city is unclear – the need for money comes to mind – for he went on to build another elsewhere in town.

The cost of renovating the theater into office space was considerably greater than the acquisition of alternative sites, and the purchase of it with tax dollars was considered “scandalous.” “The public was growing very clamorous, the more so perhaps because it was impotent,” noted a contemporary commentator on the subject. In early June, a great crowd gathered in protest, and a heated debate ensued between a council member and a spokesman for the citizens. The venting was fractious, but didn’t change the plan. The city council moved into its new quarters as planned; ironically enough, the theater space was soon found to be too small.

Did Evelina read about this in the Eastern papers? Did Oakes? California and its politics must have seemed very far away, yet Oakes would soon play a key role in connecting California to the East Coast by way of a transcontinental railroad. Who knew?

 

*Annals of San Francisco, 1855  Image courtesy of foundsf.org

 

 

May 31, 1852

Woodhouse

1852

May 31st Monday  Mrs Patterson & Jane have done

the washing and I have been about house

all day  Mr Scott has painted the dining

room over the second time  Jane will

go against the door in spite of all that I

can do  Shall I ever get settled again so that

I can sew some  Have got an Ice closet in the 

wood house

Spring cleaning was almost finished, and Evelina sounded ready to have it be done. Mr Scott had to paint a second coat in the dining room, perhaps because Jane McHanna kept banging the door against the wall. Evelina was irritated with Jane and longed to get back to her sewing.

The weather had been dry for some time.  Old Oliver, uncharacteristically, hadn’t written in his daily journal for nine days.  When he finally picked up his pen, he noted that the fair skies had been “verry drying.” Being without rain at the start of the growing season endangered the crops and put him in an ill humor.  Perhaps Evelina was feeling some of that, too.  And, perhaps, she was still grieving.

One thing that pleased Evelina, though, was getting a new ice closet at the back of the house, in the wood shed. And one thing that pleased Old Oliver was that “Mr Seve began to frame the Cariage hous”* on this day.  This building was going up on Ames property off of Main Street, on land behind the residence of Oliver Ames Jr and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames.

Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives

 

May 29, 1852

Buttonhole

1852

Sat May 29th  Have had the woodhouse cleaned of the old

chips ready for the ice closet  Baked rhubarb and 

custard pies and this afternoon Mrs Patterson has

cleaned the tin.  Mr Scott painted the china closet

over the second time between the shelves and the 

walls of the porch  I have varnished the oil cloths and 

desks tables &c &c  finished Augustas button holes

Baking, sweeping, scrubbing, painting, varnishing, and sewing were each on the domestic agenda today. Last year’s spring cleaning, which had been steady enough, seemed lackluster compared to the fierce pace of this year’s effort. Evelina didn’t necessarily complete each task personally – Jane McHanna, Mrs. Patterson, Mr. Scott and others helped – but she oversaw each piece of it. She was right in there. Today, it looks as if the only time she sat down was when she helped Augusta Pool Gilmore with her buttonholes.

Evelina excelled at making buttonholes and, at one time or another, helped other women, like Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, sew them. She must have taken pride in that particular skill, just as she must have had a real sense of accomplishment at all the tasks that were dealt with today. The to-do list got shorter.

As Evelina helped her young neighbor with needle and thread, the aroma from the baking would have competed with the fumes of the varnish.  Happily, it was fair and warm outside and hopefully, she opened the windows to let fresh air in.

 

May 26, 1852

Bird

1852

Wedns  May 26th  Jane has done part of the ironing  I have

put down the carpet in the front chamber & sitting

room and the bedroom carpet partly down and 

got the rooms in pretty good order  Mr Scott

& Holbrook commenced painting in the other

part of the house yesterday   Mrs Patterson

staid at home to do her washing & ironing

Mr Ames went to Bridgewater West

 

Spring cleaning continued; Evelina laid carpet today, often one of the last chores on the list. She could almost check the sitting room off the list, and seemed pleased that the house was “in pretty good order.”

Another spring ritual, this one involving bird hunting, may or may not have taken place on this date; by 1852, it may have been outlawed.  But the hunt, which always took place on the last Wednesday in May, was recent enough to have included various Ameses, if we assume they chose to participate.  Town historian William Chaffin describes the ritual in his 1886 History of Easton:

“At different times in the history of the town rewards were offered for killing crows and blackbirds, which were supposed to be very destructive to corn […]

“Scarcely two generations ago [which would place the event somewhere as late as the 1840s] the custom prevailed of young men choosing sides, and each side on a given day starting out and killing all the birds they could. The day chosen was the old ‘Election day’ so called, the last Wednesday in May, once the time for the convening of the State Legislature, and which came to be known as ‘Nigger ‘lection.’  It was one of the greatest holidays of the year for the boys. […] [T]hose taking part in the shooting started out at daybreak and killed as many birds as possible.  They usually met at some appointed place before dinner, to count the birds and see which side had won the victory.  In North Easton, the rendezvous was at Howards’ store […]

“The understanding was that only harmful birds should be killed; but it was easy to include nearly all birds in this category, because, it was argued, bobolinks and swallows destroyed bees, and robins stole cherries, etc. In some places the party beaten paid for the dinner and drinks of all.”*

In the 21st century, it’s difficult to fathom both the wanton waste of this offensively-nicknamed holiday, and the glee that evidently accompanied it. That hunting has an appeal, we don’t question, but that songbirds were the quarry is hard for modern folks to accept. **

 

William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, pp. 776-777

** This editor freely confesses to being a birder and particularly fond of bobolinks.

May 25, 1852

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Tuesday May 25th   Hannah Maccomber spent the day

Miss Kinsley  Billings & Scovill called about eleven

a very short call.  Hannah & sister called for a 

few moments  We have cleaned the sitting room

& bedroom  Mrs Patterson did the greater part

Mr Scott has finished painting the dining room

and put a coat of green paint between the

shelves in the sitting closet  Abby came after tea

Evelina managed to entertain visitors today even as spring cleaning cantered along in her half of the house. Her sister-in-law Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, and Hannah’s sister Elizabeth Lincoln, dropped by “for a few moments” to say hello. Hannah, being a housewife herself, knew enough to keep the visit short. Hannah and Elizabeth were “old shoe,” as the saying goes, and Evelina probably felt no compunction to impress them or be other than what she was: a housewife in the throes of cleaning.

The other surprise visit would have been less easy to accommodate. No doubt Evelina was pleased to see Miss Lucy Kinsley of Canton and her two young friends, especially after being so well entertained by the Kinsley family only a week earlier. Yet Evelina might have wished that the young ladies had come to call at another time when her home had been been more presentable.  Perhaps, too, the young ladies might have wished to catch a glimpse of the handsome Ames sons, who were more than likely at the shovel works. The awkward timing and mutual, if slight, disappointment of the call may explain its “very short” nature.

Mrs. Patterson did the lioness’s share of labor in cleaning the sitting room and bedroom, even as Mr. Scott finished the dining room and painted some closet shelves. Evelina worked alongside them both, when she wasn’t called away, and managed to oversee their work and plan ahead as well. It could be that the extra energy she was using to put her home in order was, in one respect, a way to channel her grief for her nephew, so recently deceased. Her body was busy all day long, getting things done, and her mind occupied with domestic necessities. All this may have helped her sleep at night.

 

May 24, 1852

Chimney

May 24th 1852

Monday  We have carried on a large stroke of business

to day  Mr Healy helped put the oilcloth in the 

dining room plained the floor & fitted the blinds

for the side lights  Mrs Patterson & Jane washed

and we have taken up the sitting room & bedroom

carpets & cleaned the clothes closet  Mr Scott

had partly painted the dining room & Mr Burnham

had built the chimney higher in the cook room

After a day off for the Sabbath, the women in the Ames house went back to spring cleaning. Today there were men on hand to help.  Henry Healey, frequent carpenter for the Ameses, planed the floor in the dining room and laid down the new oilcloth that Evelina had just bought in Bridgewater. He also fitted the blinds for the sidelights of the front door; perhaps they had been damaged in the fierce nor’easter back in April, when water beat into the house. That, or he just put up something new over those side panels.

In the dining room, Mr. Scott was painting and in the kitchen, Mr. Burnham was raising the chimney, perhaps repointing some of the older bricks in the process.  How Jane McHanna and Mrs. Patterson managed to do the weekly laundry around that activity is a mystery. Perhaps they worked outside in the yard. It was indeed a “large stroke of business.”