In My Footsteps
Trip 42: Easton, Mass.
April 7, 2010
There are some spots that are obvious destinations in Massachusetts such as Cape Cod, Plymouth, and Boston. There are other spots that are hidden gems that should be made destinations. One such place is a little town just east of Brockton called Easton. When choosing my destinations for my travel articles I look for towns with history and natural beauty, Easton has both.
First settled in 1694 by Clement Briggs, who had a home built near the present-day Easton Green, the town was mainly a Native American hunting and burial ground until 1713. During King Philip’s War, Metacom, King Philip himself, used Easton as a headquarters. The most prominent name, however, associated with Easton is that of the Ames family. Many buildings in Easton feature the Ames name. Who are the Ames family?
Oakes Ames was a politician born in Easton. He served in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts from 1863 to 1873. He is also seen as the most important person in the completion of the Union Pacific portion of the United States Transcontinental Railroad. He was asked to take over the Union Pacific portion by President Lincoln who was busy dealing with the Civil War. The railroad was completed in 1869 where the ‘Golden Spike’ was hammered home at Promontory Summit in Utah.
Oliver Ames was the son of Oakes Ames. He was also a politician and was Governor of Massachusetts from 1887 to 1890. Easton’s high school is named Oliver Ames High School in his honor. However it is his father Oakes Ames who has the more amazing building serving as a memorial to his work.
The Oakes Ames Memorial Hall(above), located in the historic district of North Easton, is a truly spectacular piece of architecture. Built between 1879-1881 the hall served as a gift from Ames’ children to the town of Easton after his disgrace of the Credit Mobilier of America Scandal during the late 1860’s. It was meant to be a Town Hall but ended up being more of an informal meeting house for private groups. It stands up on a hill overlooking the historic districts Main Street and Lincoln Street and has a pinkish-gray color. Though rarely used today this building is more than just eye-catching, upon seeing it I felt the need to stand under the immense arches and take in the hot sunny day from the shade.
Two other buildings adjacent to the Ames Memorial Hall have an amazingly similar look to it, almost as if they were its children. The reason for this is that all of the buildings were designed by famed 19th Century architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Directly across the street from the Hall is a former post office located at 66 Main Street which is now a public building. Located to the right of the Hall is the Ames Free Library(right). Serving as the town’s library this building has a beautifully large front lawn. It has stayed virtually untouched since the children’s wing was built in 1931 as a gift from Fanny Holt Ames to honor her husband William H. Ames. With a renewed interest in the architecture of H.H. Richardson the library has become a destination for students from all across the country and abroad. Located behind the library is what can only be described as a sizeable restoration project.
After purchasing the adjacent Queset estate and the property behind the library the Ames Library Trustees have taken it upon themselves to restore the incredible Italian Garden. Developed by Winthrop Ames in 1911 this garden was once a shining example of the Country Place Era in the United States. It had fallen into severe decay and disarray but as I stood alongside the grounds I could not help but be impressed by the work these Trustees have put in. The former Italian Garden is a sight to see even in this early stage of restoration.
On an island in between Main and Lincoln sits a most unusual piece of historical beauty. It is called The Rockery(right) and my words will not fully describe exactly what it is. Created by noted American landscaper Frank Law Olmstead, The Rockery was built in 1882 as a memorial to the citizens of Easton lost during the Civil War. The memorial itself consists of systematically piled boulders and an archway very similar to those seen in the Ames Memorial Hall. Unstable and falling apart over the years The Rockery has been fortified and restored to its original dimensions. There is a dirt walkway atop the memorial that gives one some spectacular views of the North Easton historical district. I cannot stress enough the need to physically see this most unusual yet beautiful piece of history.
Along the border between Easton and Sharon sits Borderland State Park. An amazing array of natural beauty it is also surprising to find out that the state park is a National Historic Site. Once I stepped onto the grounds I found out the reason though. It all comes back to the Ames family once again. The 1,782 acre Borderland State Park has a Frisbee golf course, gigantic open fields, horseback riding, and the picturesque Leaches Pond. However, this land, purchased by Oakes Ames, son of Governor Oliver Ames, in 1906 contained a surprise for me, a three-story, twenty room surprise. The Ames’s mansion(left) still stands along the edge of a large green field and is virtually unchanged inside and out. It is magnificently out of place. The home is available for tours on the third Sunday of the month between April and November. Leaches Pond which is only a short walk from the mansion was used for scenes of the film Shutter Island. There is a stone lodge along the shore where the scenes were shot.
Easton was a spot on my list of places to see for a while and when I finally got the chance it absolutely lived up to my expectations. It had the amazing historical sites like the Ames Memorial Hall and The Rockery. These were made more enjoyable by the peaceful ambiance of the historic district. Borderland State Park is a place that could be visited for weeks in a row and you’d probably find spots yet unseen. Easton is a hidden gem in Massachusetts that needs to be a destination for all people who enjoy beautiful scenery, historic sites, and small town charm. I highly recommend taking a day trip here to take it all in. Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: North Easton Historic District: From I-495 heading north take Exit 7A for Rt. 24 north. Take Exit 17B to merge with Rt. 123. Turn right onto Rt. 138, follow 1 mile turn left at Main Street. Take a slight right to stay on Main Street. There is a small parking area in front of The Rockery. From here it is a short walk to Ames Memorial Hall and Free Library as well.
Borderland State Park: From I-495 heading north take Exit 7A for Rt. 24 north. Take Exit 16B to merge with Rt. 106, follow 5 miles and turn right at Poquanticut Ave. Turn left at Massapoag Ave, follow 2 miles, park will be on right.
References: The Italian Garden at Queset