March 4, 1852

Shovel Shop Pond And The Island North Easton, MA

Replacement buildings on a section of the Ames shovel complex


March 4 Thursday  Scott & Holbrook are setting glass at

the shop to day  They have the front entry partly

painted  I carried my work into Edwins this

forenoon  mended O Angiers shop coat  This afternoon

have been to Mr Torreys with Augustus & Lavinia

Called a few moments on Hannah  She has a 

sore mouth and is weaning her child

Evelina addresses her day calmly, as always keeping her distance from the goings-on at O. Ames & Sons. Most other residents of North Easton were still reeling, no doubt, from the huge fire that had burned down a majority of shovel factory buildings over the night of March 2. The sun was shining and the wind was out of the north west, pushing around remnant smoke still rising from the ruins of the complex of wooden buildings. Shovel shop employees had no regular job to go to and the owners had some serious decisions to make, fast.

Clean-up from the huge fire was underway, probably by the labor of the very men whose factory jobs had been temporarily eliminated. The men who had been painting and papering at the Ames’s house, for instance, were co-opted to set glass at the shop, suggesting that new panes of glass – the originals probably having been blown out by the fire – were going into the windows of the one or two buildings that had survived.

As town historian Ed Hands points out, “the Ames family and the neighborhood rebounded quickly.”*  Old Oliver and his sons Oakes and Oliver Ames Jr. made a two-fold decision. The first was to create temporary structures to house the manufacturing so that shovel making could resume as quickly as possible.  The second was to create “new, permanent stone shops,”* sturdy, nonflammable structures that could outwit any new fire.

There was insurance money to cover at least some of the rebuilding. Sources differ on the amount of damage that the fire inflicted, but suggest it was between $30,000 and $40,000. The amount of insurance coverage is also uncertain. Old Oliver “states that there was $3,000 worth of insurance on the buildings”** but, according to industrial historian Greg Galer, it’s likely that the Ameses had increased insurance coverage on the factory back in November, 1851. Whatever the actual dollar cost was, “[t]he company bounced back quickly from the devastation, and seemingly without significant financial trauma.”**

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

** Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 1989, p. 249


December 26, 1851


Dec 26th Friday  Mr Scott has been here to day and

painted the back entry chamber & stairs leading to my

room & Janes bedroom,  I have been knitting the border

to Susans hood and sewed it together ready for the 

lining  It is a bitter cold day  Augustus called this 

evening to get the direction for things to get me

tomorrow  Came down stairs after I went to bed and

made a fire in the air tight so that my plants should not



With the wind out of the north “[i]t was a cold day all day,” noted Old Oliver.  So “bitter cold” was it that after bedtime, Evelina slipped downstairs in her nightgown to check on the indoor plants. Determined that they “should not freeze,” she lit a fire in the “airtight” to keep them warm.

The airtight was another word for stove, in this case a coal stove. People often used the words stove and furnace interchangeably, so the air tight that Evelina speaks of may be the same furnace that is often lit by one of the servants. As was customary in many New England homes, it would have been allowed to burn down every night and started fresh each morning. Yet this evening was too cold to risk Evelina’s herbs and other plants being killed off, so the stove was kept going over night.

The presence of this and perhaps other stoves in the house tells us that the Ameses no longer burned wood fires in the original fireplaces, a transition in heating technology that had happened since the 1830s over most of industrialized New England. The change had provided a better, more even heating system, but at a cost. Many lamented the loss, for “the hearth had been the warm, bright center of the household, the provider of cooked food, heat and light and a symbol of the family’s shared life.”* Others, however, of whom Evelina was likely one, cheered for the added warmth and convenience of the furnace.

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everytday Life, New York, 1988, p. 141

December 9, 1851

21e3fa70a71cf1a247c917909a88dc2f Dec 9th Tuesday.  Have been painting all day.

Got some putty from Edwins house to stop

the cracks in the hearth and painted that 

and then went to work in the storeroom

chamber finished that and the porch 

and this evening Mr Scott has painted

the floor & stairs.  Have quite a bad

cold felt it first Sunday morning

Mrs Holmes called about her milk has stoped taking

Despite having a “bad cold,” Evelina was up and working.  She walked over to her nephew’s new house and borrowed some putty which she used to fill some cracks on her own hearth. She “went to work in the storeroom chamber,” painting there and on the porch as well. It was a chilly time of year to be working in those areas, and not at all conducive to getting the better of a new cold, but Evelina seemed to have a goal in mind that she was determined to meet.

Mr. Scott was painting in the house as well, going over the floor and stairs. What kind of paint were he and Evelina using? The ingredients would have included pigment and a binding agent, such as milk or animal glue; the paint was meant to last as long as possible. Whitewash had prevailed on the plaster walls of early American homes, but other colors had since become popular. We don’t know what color Evelina picked. Mr. Scott would have mixed the paint up himself; there was no going down to a hardware store to pick up a gallon – at least not yet. Commercial house paint wouldn’t become available until after the Civil War, when Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams began to manufacture and sell ready-mixed paint.

In addition to the painting she did, Evelina mentioned a visit from her neighbor, Harriet Holmes, who came over to discuss “her milk” which “has stopped taking.”  This last sentence doesn’t quite make sense, and may be incomplete; if so, there’s no telling how the thought was intended to conclude. If we only consider what’s written, however, it sounds as if Harriet’s breast milk had just dried up. Yet there’s no commentary anywhere about Harriet Holmes having had a baby recently.  It’s a mystery.

*19th century painter’s caddy, Courtesy of

December 5, 1851


Unidentified group having tea


Dec 5th Friday  As usual this morning after being in

Boston felt tired & lazy did not get my

room in order very early.  Before it was

cleaned Mrs S Ames came in and we chatted

awhile.  Went into Edwins to get Mr Scott

to paint the porch & thus the forenoon passed

Have passed the afternoon in father Ames

with Mrs J R Howard her sister & Mrs Whitwell

With her husband away, and only her four nearly-grown children to look after, Evelina chose to relax this morning rather than make her bed, tidy up and get to her chores and sewing. “As usual,” she felt lethargic after her Boston shopping trip, but uncharacteristically, she didn’t try to overcome this lazy spell. An early morning visit from Sarah Lothrop Ames gave her some excuse to take it easy and hang out, as we might say today.

Most of the rest of her day was spent socializing.  In the afternoon Evelina went to the other part of the house to visit with sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, and other ladies who had gathered: Eliza Whitwell, Caroline Howard and the latter’s sister.  The women may simply have sat and chatted, teacups in hand, but Evelina, perhaps, had some sewing or mending at the ready as she visited.

The one piece of business that Evelina managed to do today was walk down the street to the new house being built by her nephew, Edwin Williams Gilmore, to track down Mr. Scott, a painter who was working there. He and another painter, Randall Holbrook, came over in the afternoon and began working for her. The presence of painters at Edwin’s house suggests that it was nearing completion.  Perhaps Edwin was getting ready to move in, if he hadn’t already.



October 31, 1851



Friday 31st  Have taken up the bedroom and stair carpets

and Bridget has cleaned the front entry

I have been very busy all day about the house

Mrs Hubbell, Ames, and Mrs S Ames have been

to Sharon  Mrs Witherell called at Mrs Swains

this afternoon but I was so busy that I could 

not accompany her.  Passed the evening in

the other part of the house.  Mr Scott painting

Mr Hawkins lectured at the methodist meeting house


Evelina’s autumn version of spring cleaning continued today as she tackled the upstairs carpets. Mr. Scott was still in the house, painting, and servant Bridget O’Neill cleaned the front entry which had also undergone repainting. “Very busy all day about the house,” Evelina evidently didn’t even venture out of doors.

Others did go outside. Sarah Ames Witherell paid a call on new mother Ann Swain, while Sarah Ames, Almira Ames and Mrs. Hubbel rode to nearby Sharon. Old Oliver noted in his journal that “this was a fair day + some cooler wind north west +considerable of it.”

Some miles northward, in Concord, Henry David Thoreau noted in his journal that “The wild apples are now getting palatable. I find a few left on distant trees, that the farmer thinks it not worth his while to gather. He thinks that he has better in his barrels, but he is mistaken, unless he has a walker’s appetite and imagination, neither of which can he have.”**  Two farmers in Evelina’s life, her father-in-law, Old Oliver, and her brother, Alson Gilmore, might take exception to Thoreau’s characterization of them as men without imagination.

In the evening, a Mr. Hawkins gave a lecture at the Methodist meeting house, right in the village.

* Barrel of apples,

**Henry David Thoreau, Journal,

October 29, 1851



Wednesday Oct 29.  I have been what I call puttering

about house most all day and have accomplished

but very little.  papered the fireboard and pasted

the loose places in Franks chamber  Mr Scott

has painted the sitting room & closet

Mrs Hubbel & Ames came from New York this morning

H O A Orr came for Susan this afternoon  Mr

Walton is there. Mrs Holmes and Abby called

Mr Ames came home from Boston to night

Many comings and goings in North Easton today, under a cloudy sky.  Almira Ames, widow of George, an Ames cousin, arrived from New York with a Mrs. Hubbel in tow. They came for a visit with the obliging Sarah Witherell and Old Oliver Ames in the other part of the house.

Susan Orr, meanwhile, who had been staying with Sarah Witherell and her father for almost a month, was picked up this afternoon by her brother, Hector Oakes Orr. Susan, age 53, and Hector, age 51, were first cousins of Sarah Witherell and her siblings on the Angier side of the family.  Susan and Hector were two of five children of Susanna Angier Ames’s sister, Mary and her husband, Dr. Hector Orr, of Bridgewater. Their shared grandparents were Oakes and Susanna (Howard) Angier.

Evelina’s niece on the Gilmore side, Abigail Williams Torrey, paid a call with Harriet Holmes (the neighbor who had been so ill back in August). A Mr. Walton floated somewhere in the picture; Evelina’s inclusion of his name is a bit vague. And chugging along in the background of the various calls was Mr. Scott painting the woodwork in the sitting room. Evelina concentrated on papering a fireboard when she wasn’t attending to the influx of visitors. For readers who don’t have fireplaces, a fireboard was a piece of wood, textile or ironwork fitted to the opening of a fireplace for periods when the fireplace wasn’t being used.  Fireboards made from wood, most common in the countryside, were often decorated with wallpaper or painting.


* 19th century papered fireboard, Pennsylvania, courtesy of


October 27, 1851


Monday Oct 27th  Mr Scott came this morning about nine

It being very stormy he could not get here before

Mr Smiley came just before and worked about

three hours.  After dinner went to Mansfield.

I have been helping Mr Scott paper the sitting

room  Have been busy all day about the 

papering.  Mr Ames went to Boston this afternoon

was also gone Thurs & Friday of last week


Snow! At least that’s what Old Oliver reported in his journal: “this morning the ground was coverd with snow and it snowd about all the forenoon, and was cold. wind north west + blowd hard, at night the fields are coverd with snow 2 or 3 inches deep – there has bin 1 ¼ inches of rain this time”  Evelina only reported that the weather was “stormy.”

Not only did the weather interfere with the travel of the workmen; it also surely challenged servant Jane McHanna as she attempted to wash and dry the weekly laundry. Yet it didn’t seem to prevent Oakes Ames from heading to Boston in the afternoon.  He had been there often of late.  Indoors, Mr. Scott continued to put up new wallpaper in the downstairs.  The redecorating and attendant removal of much of the furniture had been going for a week.

It was the 300th day of the year.

October 25, 1851




Sat Oct 25th  Mr Scott & Holbrook have been to work

all day papering the parlour and they have got

it papered only from the little entry door

around to that corner of the mantlepiece.

Mr Smiley worked here about two hours to day

put on the border in the parlour as far as it [was]

papered and some paint on top of the closet

shelves.  I have trimmed the paper and &c.


The wallpaper in the illustration above is an example of a mid-19th century pattern that might have been available in Boston, where Evelina purchased her new paper for the parlor. Two men, Mr. Scott and Mr. Holbrook, did some papering today, but not fast enough to suit Evelina. She was so eager to have the paper up that she helped by trimming some of it herself.  What did the workmen think about that? Mr. Smiley, who only seemed to work a few hours at a time, applied a border to what paper had been put up and painted a few shelves.

Oakes Ames was probably absent today, as Saturday was his usual day to be in Boston taking orders for shovels. Sons Oakes Angier and Frank Morton would have been at the factory across the street, honing their skills in the manufacture of shovels. Little Susie was probably at school.


*Example of mid-19th century wallpaper, courtesy of

October 23, 1851


Thursday Oct 23rd   Mr Smiley Scot & Holbrook came

to paint to day.  Mr Smiley whitewashed

the parlour & sitting room & painted two

windows in the sitting room  has been to work

all day  Hannah & Eddy called this morning

Augustus & wife & self have been to the funeral

of aunt Alger this afternoon  Have passed

the evening in Olivers  Bridget ONeal came this


Contractors filled the old house again today to paint and continue the refurbishment of the downstairs.  The parlor, where company met, and the sitting room, where Evelina sewed, were both being redecorated. We don’t know who Mr. Smiley and Mr. Scott were, but we believe that Mr. Holbrook’s first name was Randall; of the three men, Mr. Scott and Mr. Holbrook would continue off and on to paint various rooms at the Ames’s from this date until June, 1852.

New to this bustle of repainting was Bridget O’Neil, a servant who only arrived in the morning. She was probably taking the place of the recently departed Ellen. She was also the same Bridget who had worked for the family earlier in the year.  Where had she gone in the interim?

On a sad note, Evelina attended a funeral today for a Gilmore relative, an aunt in the Alger family. She went with her nephew and his wife, Hannah.  Later, she went next door to visit with Sarah Lothrop Ames.  Those post-tea evenings were beginning to take place after dark . Very soon tea itself would be served after the sun had gone down.  Daylight and warmth would diminish.  As Old Oliver noted in his journal , “this was a fair day wind north west and grew cold towards night.”