Hiking & History: Borderland State Park
OK, many of you may have hiked at Borderland. But, beyond that it was an Ames estate, how much do you really know about it, or Oakes & Blanche Ames? Well, if you’d like to know more, this is the hike for you…
Borderland is the former estate of Oakes and Blanche Ames. “Ames”, as in the Ames Shovel Company of Easton, so let’s start with a bit about that company, as its success provided the money to create Borderland, among quite a lot of other things.
Ames Shovel Company
The Ames Shovel Company traces its origins to 1774 when Capt. John Ames began making iron shovels at West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. His son Oliver Ames, Sr. moved the company to North Easton in 1803. In 1844, the elder Ames would transfer the shovel business to two of his sons, Oakes and Oliver, Jr., and the company would become known as Oliver Ames & Sons. Within the next few years, gold would be discovered in California in 1848, and in Australia in 1851, creating a worldwide demand for the company’s shovels, which were already known for their high quality.[i]
Strong demand for shovels would continue with the great expansion of railroads and later the American Civil War. This made the Ames brothers very wealthy men. The Ames brothers entered politics and became influential in financing the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. So, now we know where the Ames money comes from. Let’s move on to our Oakes & Blanche, and Borderland.
“Our” Oakes is the grandson of the Oakes mentioned above. He was educated at Harvard University, receiving his A.B. in Biology in 1898 and his A.M. in 1899 in Botany. He married Blanche Ames (no relation) in 1900. Oakes spent his entire professional career at Harvard. He was a specialist in orchids.
Orchids were little-known before Ames’ study and classification. He made expeditions to Florida, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Central and South America, with his wife Blanche creating scientifically accurate drawings of the plants they cataloged. The Ames’ work was published in the seven-volume Orchidaceae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidaceae. They also developed the Ames Charts, illustrating the phylogenetic relationships of the major useful plants, which are still used.
Ames most notable accomplishment is building an extensive orchid herbarium, with library, photographs, and paintings, which he gave to Harvard in 1938. Today the Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames contains about 131,000 specimens, plus 3,000 flowers in glycerine, 4,000 pickled specimens, and hundreds of line drawings.
Blanche was a woman ahead of her time. Born Blanche Ames in Lowell, Massachusetts, Blanche was the daughter of Adelbert Ames, a West Point graduate who became a Civil War General and Mississippi Governor.
Blanche attended the Rogers Hall School in Lowell and was one of few women of her time to attend college, earning a B.A. in Art History and a diploma in Studio Art from Smith College in 1899, where she was the president of her graduating class.
In 1902, she began illustrating Oakes Ames’s botanical publications, including his seven-volume treatise on orchids, which is still considered one of the best researched to this day.
Blanche was very involved in the suffrage movement, and during the 1910s Blanche produced a number of political cartoons promoting women’s suffrage. Her work called, “Cradle of Liberty,” was selected to be the state’s suffrage poster. Blanche also supported birth control. In 1916 she helped found the Birth Control League of Massachusetts, an affiliate of Margaret Sanger’s group, the American Birth Control League, and served as first President. In 1941 Ames also served as a board member and later as President of the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston.
Blanche held patents for inventions which included a hexagonal lumber cutter and a method for entrapping enemy aircraft. (During World War II, Blanche realized that if thread could snarl and jam a sewing machine motor, the same principle could be used to ensnare low-flying aircraft. The machine was demonstrated on the lawn at Borderland for guests from the Pentagon. Although it was accepted by the U.S. Army, it came too late for it to be applied in war.)
In the early 1910s Ames’ brother, Adelbert Ames, Jr., a scientist particularly interested in vision, moved into her studio for painting lessons. With her brother Ames began to develop a color notation system more extensive than the Munsell color system. Together the two created coded color swatches which corresponded to particular tubes of paint. The artist would use these swatches to select the most realistic colors and the codes would be mapped out on a drawing before the paint was applied.
At age 80, Ames wrote a biography about her father, Adelbert Ames, called: “Adelbert Ames, 1835-1933; General, Senator, Governor, the story of his life and times and his integrity as a soldier and statesman in the service of the United States of America throughout the Civil War and in Mississippi in the years of Reconstruction” (1964). She wrote the biography in response to criticism from John F. Kennedy in his book Profiles in Courage.
[Aside: One of the Ames’ grandchildren was George Ames Plimpton, famed sportswriter, probably best remembered as the author of Paper Lion, about his time playing for the Detroit Lions.]
When we hike at Borderland today, we may thank the Ames (and inheritance tax laws!) for preserving such a beautiful place. But the reality is a bit more interesting than that. Borderland is not a nature preserve, as in a place nature was ‘preserved’. Rather it is an estate at which beautiful scenery was created. As you walk around the ponds, if you pay attention, you will notice that many of these trails sit on top of a series of dams and dikes. These structures turned what was once boggy wetlands into the scenic ponds we know today.
The 3-story, 20 room, stone mansion was constructed in 1910, mostly under Blanche’s supervision, after the architect they hired wasn’t designing the house they wanted.
After Blanche passed away in 1969, the state acquired the property in 1971 and established Borderland State Park. Since then, the Visitor Center and the very popular Disc Golf course have been added.
Today Borderland is a very popular place to take a walk, as well as serves to host everything from weddings to civil war reenactments. Recently Borderland held their 50th Anniversary Family Gun Day.
Some of you may be familiar with the viaduct in Canton Junction:
This was built in 1834-35, and at its completion, it was the longest (615 ft) and tallest (70 ft) railroad viaduct in the world. It was originally built for small single track steam engines, but has been reinforced and is now a double track line still in use today on the Boston to Providence run. The face stone for this viaduct was quarried at Moyle’s Quarry, which is now part of Borderland.
This stone was ‘hand split’ and you can see the drill holes where they drilled the stone to insert the “Feather & Wedges” to split the stone. [For a demonstration of this process see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sarfIojai2I )
Charlie the horse.
When you move all that granite to the railroad down in Sharon, you are thankful that it is down a slight grade all the way. But how to get the wagon back up to the Quarry. The answer was Charlie, the horse that dragged that empty wagon back up to the quarry. And the story goes that, when the viaduct was completed, there was some ‘discussion’ of who should be honored to be the first to cross the viaduct. (This being Massachusetts I’m sure the Governor was mentioned, maybe the Boston & Providence Railroad management, maybe even the town Mayor.) Well, the story is that the workmen solved the problem by loading Charlie on a RR flatcar and pushing him across first.
Hikes at Borderland
Borderland contains approximately 20 miles of trails, spread over its 1843 acres, so there are lots of potential hikes. Here we will present two options, one 3¾ mile loop around Lower & Upper Leach Pond on the wider carriage roads, and a second 7ish mile hike that takes you out through the more remote ‘back woods’ of Borderland on more winding, and rocky, trails.
Pond Walk Hike
This hike is about 3¾ miles, with an elevation gain of about 110’. This hike will take you around the ponds, and past the mension.
From the Visitor Center, after purchasing your parking pass, proceed down the hill on the wide dirt road beside the Visitor Center. You will come to a fork, with Pond Edge Trail diverging right. Keep left and stay on Pond Walk. As you approach Lower Leach Pond you will see a stone one-story building on the right. Check it out, especially in the winter, when there is usually a warming fire burning in the fireplace. This building was the prototype to see what a stone building would be like. Note, if it looks familiar, perhaps you remember it from Shutter Island, on of the movies filmed at Borderland.
After checking out the building, proceed to your left, walking clockwise around the ponds, and keeping Lower Leach Pond on your right.
… [to be continued!]
Moyle’s Quarry & backwoods Hike
A longer, 7(?)-mile hike that takes you to Moyle’s Quarry
If you are looking for a longer hike, hiking out to Moyles Quarry will take you on some of the smaller, less crowded trails, as well as taking you to Moyle’s Quarry.
[i] Note, the majority of this historical information is taken from various Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia is a great resource for information about… w