11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Ames Shovel Shops

Year Listed: 2009
Location: Easton, Massachusetts
Threat: Development

 

Significance

In southeastern Massachusetts, an important piece of our nation's industrial heritage is threatened by development.  The Ames Shovel Shops complex, an eight-acre site comprising 15 granite and wood buildings dating from 1852 through 1928, is the central core of what many consider a museum of 19th-century American development. To some, the area is so scenic it looks more like a New England college campus than an industrial village, complete with worker housing and civic buildings of international architectural reputation. The iron-bladed shovels fabricated here by generations of the Ames family literally built America. They were critical elements of the California Gold Rush, the Civil War and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad – but today, the new owners of the Ames Shovel Shop want to tear down some of the site's historic buildings and radically alter others in order to pave the way for a new mixed-use development.

Captain John Ames, a blacksmith, began manufacturing a simple but vital tool, the iron-bladed shovel, around 1774.  His son, Oliver, established the Ames Shovel Works in Easton in 1803, and by 1870, the company, which pioneered early mass-production techniques, sold 60 percent of the shovels used worldwide.  Thanks to the patronage of the Ames family, the town of North Easton flourished and is now a treasure trove of Henry Hobson Richardson's Romanesque Revival architecture and Frederick Law Olmsted lanscapes.

Although the Shovel Shops left Easton in 1953 after a series of mergers, the Ames company remains in business today as Ames True Temper, based in Pennsylvania.  The complex was sold in the 1970s to a local businessman who leased portions of the buildings for office space.