drew hadn't gone to north easton due to logistical reasons: since he doesn't know how to drive, he could only get there via public transportation. unfortunately, the closest commuter train station is stoughton, and from there it's about another 6 miles of walking to reach north easton.
i too have an enthusiasm for richardsonian romanesque. it's one of my favorite american architectural styles, if not the most favorite. north easton piqued my interest, given that there's a whole area designated as the h.h.richardson historic district. so i proposed to drew that i would be willing to drive him to north easton, provided we make a visit to ikea (in nearby stoughton) on the way back. besides, it's not everyday i can go see some architecture with an architecture history professor, so it was an opportunity too good to pass on.
we left shortly after 9:00, when drew returned home from a quick coffee run because he ran out of his espresso blend. at a distance of approximately 32 miles, it'd take us about 45 minutes to drive there along route 93 and 24. i can't remember the last time i drove on I-93-south - must've been a few years, back in august 2008 i think. the only reason why i would ever go that far south of boston is to visit ponkapoag bog. but ever since i discovered a motorcycle route via blue hill avenue, i don't need to drive on I-93-south anymore.
we arrived in north easton around 10:00. there was no mistaking we were in the right place because as soon as we reached the western bend of main street we saw two large richardsonian buildings up on a hill. in the excitement i almost pulled the car over but we drove a a bit ahead to park in the lot behind the ames free library. we got out to get our architecture on.
the day was brisk but sunny, with not a single cloud in the sky. patches of frost crunched underneath our shoes when we walked over the lawn. we started with the ames free library first since it was next to the parking lot. later we'd come back to see the interior space.
the oakes ames memorial hall next door is the more impressive structure. supposedly it was built with the idea that it would serve as the town hall (which ended up not happening). a man opened a door and waved for me to come inside. apparently enough richardsonian fans come and visit that it's fairly routine to see people wandering around outside. we were invited to check out the inside while they set up the 2 function halls (downstairs and upstairs) for weekend events. we spoke with a young man first, who was helpful but couldn't give up too much specifics about the history of the building. later we spoke with an older gentleman (the boss) who turned out to be a direct descendent of the eponymous ames. neither drew and i knew what the ames family were famous for. "shovels," fred told us. at one point 2/3 of the world shovels were ames shovels. their former office space in boston was none other than the ames building i've often admired. suddenly it all made sense, like the end of a movie when all is revealed. the ames family also invested in the transcontinental railroads.
fred seemed to be the grounds keeper for the oakes ames memorial hall, and seems to be involved with the town historical preservation society when it comes to building maintenance. he told us there used to be these large rhododendron bushes that were threatening to eclipse the building. the preservationists were against taking them down since they might've been put there by olmsted in his landscape scheme, but the whole reason why people come from long distances to easton is to see these richardsonian architecture. so one weekend, armed with a chainsaw, fred took it upon himself to chop down all the rhododendrons. he became a town pariah for a short time, until people realized it was the right call. fred knew his stuff, and recommended a few other places we should visit while in town. he was especially grateful when drew helped him identify one of the mysterious characters (diogenes) on a large mythological painting hanging in the upstairs function hall.
after spending some more time taking photos of the memorial hall exterior (including 66 main street across the street, designed by shepley, rutan & coolidge), we moved back to the library, this time to see what was inside. the central book stacks was pretty amazing, all wood from floor to tall ceiling. the library printed out some more info for us and even let us go up onto the second floor which is usefully off-limits due to low railings.
we also checked out the queset house next door, also owned by the library. it was designed by andrew jackson downing in 1854 for oakes a. ames, with landscaping by frederick olmsted. there was a weekend crafts fair in progress, which seemed like it was torn right out of the pages of gilmore girls' stars hollow, with interesting small town characters, various interesting handicrafts, a woman playing a piano, and afternoon tea time service. the demographic was exclusively white, although i did see an asian boy with a video camera outside, reporting on some news for the local cable access channel.
based on fred ames' recommendation, we went further north up main street to see the unity church, where apparently there were some fine stain-glass windows designed by john lafarge. we were told to listen for the sound of the organist playing his pipes inside. although he wasn't there when we arrived, bernie the sexton was working the grounds and was kind enough to let us inside. a vietnam vet (judging from the vietnam war service ribbon bumper sticker on his minivan), bernie wore turquoise earrings and had painted fingernails like an aging rockstar.
this unitarian church was built by the ames family in 1875 in a gothic revival style. inside was some impressive woodwork, carvings of celestial angels each playing a different musical instrument, by johannes kirchmeyer, a german-trained artist who immigrated to america. he's also responsible for mantling on anderson memorial bridge in harvard square. i noticed a lot of kleenex packets throughout the church. later i realized it was in anticipation of tomorrow's (sunday) sermon which would be about the sandy hook elementary school shooting.
bernie also took us next door to the parsonage. drew was impressed by the craftsmanship. bernie went back to work while we wandered about into the cemetery behind the church. we came across the ames family plot set on a little hill. so here lies the remains of one of the most powerful massachusetts families if not all of america! i was in awed. it was a little hard to keep straight of who's who since the men of the family seem to be either named oakes or oliver; it'd be nice to have a family tree diagram to keep track of everyone. i lost track of drew at some point (he wandered away to explore the far edges of the cemetery) and had to call him to find out where he was.
back out front, we finally met dick the organist, who lives just across the street (in the red house). here was a man who had stories! he said the ames family rejected richardson's design for the church ("not grand enough") but instead went with the design of a family member by the name of john ames mitchell1, who "knew what he didn't know," said dick. he told us the nearby parsonage was built by henry van brunt: if that name sounds familiar, it's because he also designed the harvard memorial hall (1870, neo-gothic) and the cambridge public library (1888, richardsonian romanesque). dick told us how the church was one of the first places to have a woman minister who apparently made some great apple pies. he remember sitting out on the front porch drinking gin, and now holds a weekly poker game inside the parsonage (a tradition started by the minister's husband).
we could've talked to dick all day but we had more places to see. besides, drew had to go use the bathroom, and we were both getting hungry (it was close to 1:30 by that point). we drove off on oliver street and came across richardson's old colony railroad station - now the headquarter for the easton historical society. originally i didn't plan to stop, but since we were there, we got out to take a quick look. it's not as grand as the memorial hall or library, but it does have its romanesque charm, like the arched doorways and large multi-colored stonework. there were also interesting wooden carvings of either dragons or wolves on the beams across the doorways, as we as carvings of cat-like beasts (lions?) on the hand rests of the benches.
it was too open for drew to simply go behind a bush, so we kept on driving, on the lookout for food and bathroom. i went down mechanic street-sullivan avenue until we hit main street again. there was bill's house of pizza but drew said it looked sketchy. traveling east, we came to the intersection of washington street and entered the large strip mall. there was a sushi restaurant but drew thought it was too much of a sit-down restaurant. there was also a dunkin' donuts but drew refused to eat lunch there. he did however use there bathroom, while i quickly paid for a chocolate donut (95¢) and ate it right when he came back out.
back on the road, we were now traveling north on washington avenue. we came across an even bigger strip mall (CVS, roche brothers), but there was still no eating places. so we turned back, and went to a local burger place we saw earlier, mcmenamy's hamburger house.
mcmenamy's hamburger house turned out to be the perfect place, with interior decor reminiscent of a truck stop diner. drew wanted to sit by the retro countertop but i suggested we take a table instead (better to hold our bags and jackets). the little restaurant doesn't seem like much from the outside, but business was brisk inside, and the large parking lot in the back is a clue that they can accomodate even more customers. when i saw the prices on the food though, i fell in love with mcmenamy's. $2.40 for a hamburger? $3.05 for a steak burger? back in cambridge, a burger might cost $10. so i ordered a steak burger, some fries, a root beer, and a cup of clam chowder. drew had a steak burger with cheese, some onion rings, and a root beer as well. the chowder was okay and so were the fries, but the steak burger was good enough to come back. it was unusual that it was served as a flat rectangular patty, but it had a nice fire barbecue flavor.
the check came out to be only $13.90. drew treated as a thank you gesture for driving him out to north easton. it wasn't hard to get back on track as elm street (the location of our next destination) was directly intersected washington street just south of us.
the 2 remaining richardsonian sites were private residences. how much we'd get to see depended on the tolerance of the homeowners to trespassers. we came across the ames gate lodge first, drew the first to point it out ("there it is!"). we parked in the near empty town office lot almost directly across the street. i was a little hesitant to be walking the grounds of the gate lodge, given the prominently displayed "no trespassing" sign (they must get a lot of visitors). galvanized by seeing another richardsonian site, drew was unswayed, and walked right through the gate. his view was we'd explore until somebody tells us otherwise.
the gate lodge was just that: a gate that you passed through in order to get to the main mansion further down the private drive. it was designed with living spaces for the on-duty attendants, and the place was definitely inhabited, although we didn't see anyone. the gate lodge is atypical in its use of unshaped stones, which gaves the structure a rustic cottage-like appearance. the entrance is also unique in the number of different colored stones. we walked around the lodge, seeing it from all angles. it's just unfortunate that it was already late afternoon and with the sun close to setting most of the lodge was in shadows.
back at the car, drew wanted to drive through the gate lodge to see what's at the end of the road. he didn't think we'd get into much trouble, if at all, and at worst they'd just tell us to leave. i was very much against the idea, especially in a borrowed car. i suggested we drive around to the other side of the estate (as originally recommended by dick the organist) and see what we could see. also, the last remaining richardsonian property - the gardener's cottage - was something we couldn't find, so we skipped it.
so we looped around to the other side, within eyesight of the defunct railroad station. we unsuspectedly drove into the governor ames estate (a reservation), not realizing it was for pedestrian traffic only (there was nobody around). we saw a large house which might've been governor ames' mansion at one point, but this wasn't what as at the end of the gate lodge. we kept driving until we came across a bridge that was closed off by a gate. across a long stretch of pond was a manicured expanse of trees and lawn and a far larger mansion off in the distance. "there!" drew said as he pointed to the gate lodge we saw earlier. we could only admire from our side of langwater pond. what was this place? could it be the existing ames family estate? it certainly seemed grand enough to fit that description. we explored the reservation a little bit more, drew doing some bushwhacking along the shoreline to see if i could get a close look at the property. i admired a stand of eastern hemlock and then ate a few pieces of forst-damaged lettuce leaves growing from a small patch of neglected farm land. with the sun close to setting, we decided to finally leave easton and go to ikea.
passing by the front of the gate lodge, we noticed a car parked prominently in the gate, as if to block people from entering. could this be the owners after seeing us wandering around their property?
we found ikea through the guidance of the trusty garmin gps by around 4:00. i think it took us on an unnecessarily longer route but i didn't tell drew. at the rotary going into the store were 3 police officers directly traffic. it was definitely much more crowded than the last time i came here via motorcycle. i left my camera in the car, wanted to give my shoulder and neck some rest.
the first thing i did when we got inside the store was to go use the bathroom. i hadn't urinated since this morning at 9:00, and was kind of surprised i held out so long. after i properly relieved myself, i was in the mood to do some home furnishing shopping. the things i wanted: new dishware, footrest, duvet cover. i ended up only getting the dishes (18 piece färgrik dinneware set $19.99). i also grabbed some cork trivets ($2.99) and a pair of wooden magazine boxes ($9.99). the boxes were weird, nested one inside the other, so i was technically getting a smaller box, but i needed them for my expanding collection of maps and pamphlets so i had no choice but to get them.
we drove back to cambridge around 5:30. there was a bit of traffic (surprisingly) but it was still moving so it wasn't too bad. driving on I-93 at night with a lot of speeding cars can be harrowing though, and i was kind of tense. i was relieved to be finally back at home, and with plenty of parking spots (so i didn't have to do any parallel parking).
since i had such a big late lunch, i wasn't hungry the rest of the evening. drew and i ended up watching lord of the rings on television. my upstairs neighbors were being noisier than usual, with loud music and heavy stopping. finally i had enough and banged on their door so loud and hard it sounded like i was going to break the door down. paul came downstairs to see what was going on. "could you turn down the music a little bit?" i asked. without apologizing or even agreeing to my request, he said it was the television. "could you also keep down the stomping?" i said. once again, he said it was just the television. afterwards they did keep it to a more respectable level.
1 john ames mitchell was also one of the original 1883 founders of life magazine, back when it was more of a literary publication than a photographic one.