Soaking Up Historic Energy And Inspiration
A Walk Through The Ames Shovel Shops
In the early 1970s, Boston mayor Kevin White, a group of Boston business and civic leaders, architect Benjamin Thompson, and real estate and urban developer Jim Rouse, took on an epic, some might say, Quixotic, quest.
They spearheaded an effort to redevelop, preserve, and bring back to former grandeur, Faneuil Hall, and the surrounding buildings.
Critics and naysayers were abundant. Then again, they always are.
Built in the mid 1700s, Faneuil Hall, also called Quincy Market, became a thriving hub of commerce and industry, and it remained vibrant through the 1800s. Yet not long into the 20th century, the marketplace began a decline. It wasn’t kept up, and the buildings fell into disrepair and became dilapidated. The place turned into a dump.
So, make Faneuil Hall a “go to” and hip space again? Yeah, right, like this is going to work.
Well, its 2012. And what do you know – every year more than 18 million visit Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall is an example of “how you do” championship urban renewal and preservation.
It is significant that early in the project, Jim Rouse, the developer, busied himself with studying photographs and other depictions of Faneuil Hall when it had been in its heyday, its “salad days” – when it was in its prime. He wanted to immerse himself in the energy and the feel and the emotion of the marketplace during another time and in another dimension.
What Rouse felt and learned from this exercise, he transmitted into his planning and decisions on reviving Faneuil Hall.
It is expected that next month, Beacon Communities Development will begin the rehab and preservation and reconditioning of the Ames Shovel Shops, a veritable museum of 19th and early 20th century American manufacturing might. This museum sits amid the grand and great architecture of H.H. Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Stanford White.
Beacon Communities Development is going to turn the Shovel Shops into 113 residential units, with designed open space, that will retain and protect the historical and physical integrity of the property.
The Ames Shovel Shops were the locus of the Ames shovel empire during a period in which 60 percent of all shovels in the world were manufactured in Easton. Ames shovels were used to build America, and by our armed forces in defense of it.
This past Thursday, mid afternoon, I had the fortune of being given an impromptu tour of the Shovel Shops. I grew up in Easton, and until the other day, I had not seen as much of the interior of the shops as I did that day. It was a fantasy field trip.
As I write this, I am thinking like Jim Rouse – and how I hope the positive history and psychic energy of the Shovel Shops when they were humming will be harnessed and invested.
Beacon Communities Development is an all star in this area, and I have full confidence that this will be the case.
Walking through the "Office and Stable" (c. 1897) – the wood building that sits on the corner of Oliver Street and Main Street – I was shown workmanship from more than 200 years ago. Still high up in the belfry is the bell that rang in the morning and called villagers to work in the shops.
I saw the massive metal safes installed into the walls. It was in these safes that the money was held which was paid to workers at the end of the week.
Oxen were housed in this building.
The “Long Shop” (c. 1852) is just that – a long shop. It is good football field long, with a ceiling that must be 20 or so feet high, and with stone walls that are, as are all the stone walls in all the shops, four feet thick.
As for those stone walls, I have to say that they seem to offer a nice benefit in terms of energy conservation. It was cold the day I took the tour, and it was noticeably warmer inside the buildings, even though the heat was not on.
I learned, as well, that during the summer the stone walls help keep the interiors of the buildings cool.
I stood in the “Machine Shop” (c. 1852), the tall stone building which is located next to the entrance to the shops on Main Street diagonally across from the Ames Free Library. I was at the east end of the building which is open and cavernous and very dark.
Still, as I looked west, sunlight slipped through windows and became a beautiful cascade of hazy illumination within a giant cloak of dusk. Really, I need to go back with a camera and capture the image.
One’s mind races thinking about how residences will be created within the shops, and how the historic buildings and architecture will be leveraged and appropriated in the development.
The Ames Shovel Shops are a local and regional and national treasure.
We are on the cusp of the next phase of something very special.