October 11, 1852


Early factory steam engine

Monday Oct 11th  Catharine Middleton & Murphy washed

and I sat down quite early to my sewing

with Mother & Louisa  Mended stockings

This afternoon we spent at Augustus

Mother & Louisa are going to spend the 

night  Mr Torrey & Abby were there

Mr Ames & Oakes A went to West B

I have been sewing on the skirt of Susans

fall Delaine

This was a typical Monday as far as domestic matters were concerned. In the morning, the women washed clothes and mended stockings. In the afternoon, they went calling on relatives in the village. But it was a red-letter day at the shovel shop, as men arrived to install the a steam engine – the first – at the factory.

Old Oliver seemed excited: “this was a fair good day for the season the man came here to sett up the enjoin four of them.” The company’s first steam engine was placed in the new Long Shop by the Corliss Nightingale Company of Providence. It was a technological change that Oliver had resisted in the past, but had since come to accept. His son, Horatio, in particular, had urged the change for several years in order “to counter water supply limitations”* In January, 1847 he had written his father and his brother, Oliver Jr., on the topic.

To Old Oliver:

I shall think a steam engine […] of sufficient power to carry 3 hammers and carry all your polishing works shearing and punching and Bisbees works […] would be cheaper and better […] It is too bad that you do not keep nearer supplying the market with shovels when a comparatively small expense would do it in addition to your other works.”*

To Oliver Jr.:

I enclose you with […the] price and terms for a steam engine. It will do you no hurt to compare cost of this and water power. it will take about one ton of coal a day to drive it and the repairs will be no more than a water power if as much[…] You never need fail for water either too much or too little […] I am altogether in favor of this plan over water power in your situation.”*

Horatio was right, as it turned out. The new engine was the beginning of modernization for O. Ames and Sons.

Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 251.  Text of Horatio Ames correspondence from Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

August 10, 1852


Ames Machine Shop, built in1857


Aug 10th Tuesday Was sewing & puttering about one thing

and another untill about four Oclock

Mrs Witherell Mrs A L Ames & self spent the 

afternoon at Mrs Sheldons.  Mrs Johnson Swan

Williams, Howard and their brother Thomas were

there had a very pleasant visit.  On our return

found Mrs Dorr at Fathers and called to see her


“Sewing & puttering” filled Evelina’s hours up until near tea-time, at which point she, Sarah Ames Witherell, and Almira Ames went out to see some friends. They called on Sarah Sheldon, wife of the Congregational minister, where they saw several members of the Johnson family, including Louisa Johnson Swan, Nancy Johnson Howard, Ann Johnson and Thomas Johnson. It was “a very pleasant visit.”

Families often visited in groups, as we see in this entry and as we have seen from previous visits made by the Ames women. The Ameses went to see the Gilmores, or the Kinsleys, or the Howards, and vice versa. Families in the same town knew one another, or knew of one another, and had much in common. Whether or not everyone agreed about everything (which they didn’t – witness the old division between the Congregationalists and the Unitarians,) there was nonetheless a level of familiarity among long-established families in a given area.

Families worked in groups, too, most obviously on the numerous farms that still dominated the landscape. Yet as industrialization began to replace, or at least compete with, the agrarian lifestyle, members of the same family (at least those members who didn’t move away) often opted to work in the same trade. The Ames family is a prime example. Old Oliver developed an artisanal business that became a commercial factory. By the middle of the 19th century, artisanal businesses that were to thrive – such as the Ames Shovel Company – were becoming industrialized. Products were developed and produced, workers were hired and trained on the job, and the whole outfit was managed by members from one family. In Old Oliver’s case, he appointed certain sons and certain grandsons to take leadership roles.

Industrial historian Greg Galer has studied this work pattern. He writes, “kinship was a critical aspect of early industrial development. As manufacturers faced a growing national market in which to sell their products and acquire their raw materials they also found an increasingly unfamiliar body of people from whom they required trustworthy relationships. By using kin in some of these roles Ames eased the transition to these anonymous markets. Kin also played an important part in the management of the main shovel-making operation and affiliated enterprises located elsewhere…”

Family was everything.

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

** Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2001, p. 5



April 2, 1852


1852 March [sic] 2d Friday  Have been mending pants for Frank

Made a long call on Mrs S Ames in the morning

Have been sweeping and dusting.  Mrs S Ames dined

in the other part of the house  I carried my sewing

in there a couple of hours this afternoon  Oakes A

went to Mr Howards after Orinthia this evening

Frank is not well and did not go  Have

written a letter to Mrs Norris  Augusta here this evening

After yesterday’s April Fool’s fun, Evelina resumed her domestic routine. She swept, dusted, mended, sewed and wrote a letter to a friend. Same old, same old. Her son Frank Morton, however, was under the weather, but her oldest son, Oakes Angier, was fine and even went out for the evening after work.

Old Oliver Ames, meanwhile, also resumed some of his routine, most of which had been disrupted by the shovel shop fire a month earlier. He was occupied by planning for the new stone factory buildings, but as he listened to the rain fall, he knew it was almost planting time. The farmer in him was getting ready for a new growing season. Perhaps in recognition of that, he “bought a yoke of oxen to day of Samuel Clap for $117-50.”*



March 28, 1852


Ames Shovel Handle Factory, Oakland, Maine*


March 28 Sunday  Went to church this morning and

at noon called at Mrs Wm Reeds with Henrietta

Hannah came at noon but was faint and

I carried her home and got back to church about

the time the services were over  After went down

to the new shops with Mrs W, S Ames Augusta Orinthia

found Mr. Ames, Oliver & Cyrus L there returned by Edwins

and all called there  Mr Ames & self went to Augustus’ this evening

The new shops were up, and various family members rode by to see them after church. No more “dismal ruin”, as reported by Evelina only three weeks earlier. Risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the old shops, the shovel works were about to begin operations in new, if temporary, quarters.

It was a large group that gathered to consider the new buildings. Evelina, who had missed the afternoon service in attending to her ailing niece, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, nonetheless rode back from church to the site. Accompanying her were her sisters-in-law, Sarah Witherell and Sarah Ames; another niece, Augusta Pool Gilmore; and sometime boarder and frequent companion, Orinthia Foss.  At the site, by accident or design, they found Oakes Ames and his brother, Oliver Ames Jr., and Cyrus Lothrop, a brother of Sarah Lothrop Ames who often resided with his sister. The group must have marveled at the swift reincarnation of the shovel works.

Perhaps a celebratory spirit inspired the crowd to assemble en masse at the nearby home of newlyweds Augusta and Edwin Gilmore.

*Image of Ames Shovel Handle Factory, Oakland, Maine courtesy of the Oakland Maine Area Historical Society. Included to illustrate what the rebuilt shovel factory could have resembled.

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 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


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


January 10, 1852


 Portrait of Oakes Ames by Matthew Brady 


Jan 10th Saturday  Mr Whitwell & Ames have not met again

to day  Mr W called just as Augusta Helen Susan

& self were in the sleigh to take a ride  We have

called at mothers  Mr Horace & John Pool, Edwin

& wife here to tea  Swept the parlor this morning

and put the house in order partially frosted a loaf of cake

for Augusta having made one of hers carried the frosting

over and made her a call while heating it

The boys presented their Father a gold pen & pencil

Oakes Ames turned 48 years old today, as did the local Unitarian minister, William Whitwell.  Last year and again this year, Evelina was unsuccessful in getting the two men together to celebrate. Oakes Angier and Frank Morton gave their father a gold pen and pencil to mark the occasion, a fine gesture.

As Oakes closed in on the half-century mark, he presumably began to look beyond the confines of the work he and his brother Oliver Jr. did for the shovel company. The next generation, in fact, was being groomed to run O. Ames & Sons; Oakes Angier, as eldest son of the eldest son, was on deck to superintend the company whenever Oakes and Oliver Jr. decided to step down. He was learning every aspect of the manufacturing process. Oliver (3) and Fred Ames were at college, Oliver presumably honing the skills he would need to take over his father’s role in managing sales, while Fred was on a path to being the financial clerk or CFO we might say today. Frank Morton Ames was learning a variety of skills, too, although he was seen more as a spare man waiting to step in should his cousin or either older brother fail somehow.

What could Oakes do with his tremendous talent and energy? Clearly, the roiling politics of the day interested him. By 1860, his gregarious nature, quick comprehension and thirsty ambition led him to accept the nomination and election to Massachusetts Governor Andrew’s Council as representative from Bristol County. Two years later, by “a large popular vote,”* Oakes Ames was then elected to the Thirty-Eighth U. S. Congress, where he would serve for four terms.

In 1872, according to circumspect historian, Reverend William L. Chaffin, Oakes “declined a renomination.”* He died in May, 1873, shortly after the conclusion of Credit Mobilier, a national political scandal for which many held Oakes culpable. At the time, his natural candor and fearlessness worked against him and he was unable to dodge the political manuevering that placed most of the blame on him. That same brave honesty, coupled today with calmer, historical perspective, has since served to cast Oakes Ames in a better light.

William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, p. 654



December 6, 1851


Picking apples 1880

Farm hands fill an oxen cart with apples in the late fall

Dec 6th Saturday  Mr Scott & Holbrook have finished

the first coat of paint in the storeroom &

stairway and porch.  They commenced yesterday P.M.

Have been mending stocking pants &c &c

all day and waiting upon the painters   they have

varnished the graining in the dining room

and painted the inside windows for the sitting room

Yesterday Evelina had sought Mr. Scott to do some painting for her.  He and another workman, Randall Holbrook, had responded quickly, arriving at the Ames’s house by the afternoon.  They continued their work today, painting and varnishing various areas inside the house. The day being “fair”  if “cold,”*  the men were also able to paint a porch outside. One might have thought that Evelina had already gotten everything painted; this kind of work had been going on for months.

Old Oliver noted in his journal that “the ground is frozen hard + carting is good”  The unpaved roads in the village and beyond had hardened, enabling carriages, carts and wagons to move steadily around. There was no sinking into half-thawed, muddy ruts. As modern historian Jack Larkin has noted, “[W]henever it was cold enough to freeze hard, ‘winter was the time…for making journeys.’ The hazards of cold and storm were outweighed by leisure from farm work and greater speed.” **Pulled by teams of oxen, carts full of finished shovels could get moved to market to be shipped out, and raw material for the factory could be shipped in.


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

** Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life,” New York, 1988, p. 221.


December 3, 1851




Dec 3d  Wednesday.  Mr Ames started for New York by

way of Boston.  I went to Boston with him dined

at Mr Orrs  Melinda went for Selina and

she passed the night there with me.  I was very

busy shopping all day  In the evening Mr & Mrs

Norris  Selina & self played cards  Past eleven

when we retired.  Mr & Mrs Byram were there


As Old Oliver wrote at one point in his journal, “Oakes went to New York the 3rd of this month to settle up our accounts.”  With his natural bonhomie and sharp talent, Oakes was the best salesman on the Ames team.  On this trip, he would be away for eight days, delivering invoices, collecting payments, checking on inventory and bringing new orders back home.

Evelina accompanied her husband into Boston, where they stopped for midday dinner at the Orrs’ before Oakes boarded his train. He would have traveled to New York by way of Springfield, or else taken the Old Colony line down to Fall River where steamboats picked up passengers to complete the trip to New York City.  Evelina, meanwhile, stayed in Boston to shop and enjoy a bit of socializing with the extended Orr family. She played cards past her bedtime.

Back in Easton, shovel making and farm work went on as usual.  Old Oliver, as always, noted the weather: “this was a fair day wind north west + cold. ”  He added that  “we kild 4 hogs to day everage wate 356 lb sold to the workmen at 7 cents a pound those we sent to boston sold for 7 ¼ cents”.  He sold some of the fresh pork to his workmen, probably through the Ames store, and sent the surplus to Boston to be sold.