June 7, 1852


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


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



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 http://www.donalsonantiques.com