Happy Saturday, and happy Graduation Day! Please join me in congratulating the Oliver Ames High School Class of 2022 as they receive their hard-earned and well-deserved diplomas today. Best wishes to the entire class, and to those graduating today who worked at the Museum: Eagle Scout Abram Kempner, Hannah Murphy, Antonia Ginis, and Lauren Gilgan!
Paul Berry suggested this week’s topic and supplied us with a copy of the old image. From 1893 to 1946, this is what you would have seen in the area nearly opposite 250 Main Street. “Sheep Pasture” was the Easton home of Oliver Ames (1864-1929) and his family. Son of Frederick Lothrop Ames, the Harvard graduate had a very successful career in finance, and even at a young age was able to negotiate with some of the most powerful and influential financial giants of his time. When his father died unexpectedly in 1893, young Oliver was given the task of settling his father’s estate, a duty he carried out with excellence.
In 1891 Oliver began purchasing land on the opposite side of Main Street from his father’s “Langwater” estate, and in a few years, completed the purchase of the land that would become his own estate. Though Frederick Law Olmsted was brought in to design the grounds, Oliver himself laid out the estate plots and buildings as he wanted. The locations of the Gate House, carriage house, barns, kennels, and other outbuildings were carefully chosen to be convenient to, but out of sight of the main house.
As you can see from the old photo, taken around 1915, the house sat near enough to the road to be a dominant landmark. Designed by the firm of Rotch and Tilden, the half-timbered style mansion overlooked a meadow that swept down towards the lower end of Queset River. At one time sheep grazed in this meadow, giving the house its name. Oliver Ames married Elise West in 1890. The many rooms of the house provided space for a growing family of four children (Elise, Olivia, Oliver, and Richard) and stories of growing up there as children are told by Mrs. Parker (Elise, who married William Parker) in the book Growing Up at Sheep Pasture.
The house stood until 1946. Oliver and Elise had passed away by then. Son Oliver died a hero in France during World War I, son Richard, a musician, died in France in the 1930’s. Olivia married Henry Cabot, and Elise after marrying William Parker, moved into her great-grandfather Oliver Ames II’s house “Unity Close.” Following their mother's death in 1945, the summer home at Pride’s Crossing was sold. The property at Sheep Pasture stood empty, and the house was vandalized until finally being torn down in 1946.
There is one other important feature in this photo. The very large outcropping of granite on the left had a flagpole on top and at the base, a hickory tree stood for many years. Father Oliver would blow a whistle there and his children would gather for outdoor walks and rides. From a very young age, the children were taught to appreciate the outdoors, and they spent a fair amount of time with family and staff learning about local flora and fauna. This experience would lead to something significant in the years ahead.
You might also note, in the old photo, the trolley tracks in the street. One of the nice features picked up here are the cobblestones that held the tracks in place.
Today, standing opposite the old main gate, the scene is very different. The wall that defined the entrance to the estate is still standing. The gates are new, but are of the same design as the originals. Gone is the flagpole and hickory tree. The house has been gone more years (76) than it existed (53) though the once finely manicured outdoor terrace is a gathering place for events and photos, with its beautiful view overlooking the meadow, where the Queset River still flows serenely on its path through South Easton. Rhododendrons, here and elsewhere on the drives through the estate, are a lovely site each summer. Trees and brush now obscure the view of the giant rock. However, in 1973, Mrs. Parker made the extraordinary donation of the property to the Natural Resource Trust of Easton, so that the property could continue as a working farm. There, children and residents would have the same opportunity she had as a child to discover the natural world and develop the same love for it that she had.
Wishing you all the best, and again with congratulations to our graduates,
Curator: Frank Meninno