Blanche Ames and Oakes Ames came
from prominent but unrelated Massachusetts families. Among
their ancestors were blacksmiths and manufacturers, congressmen
and governors, generals and yachtsmen, farm wives and—Blanche’s
grandmother—a Shakespearean actress. The mansion’s
exhibits tell the stories of many of theses people.
The ship Hercules brought the forebears
of Oakes Ames to Massachusetts in 1638. Several generations
of farmers and blacksmiths later, John Ames of Bridgewater
became the first American to manufacture shovels. Within a
few years, the colonists no longer needed to import shovels
from England. In 1803, John’s
son, Oliver Ames, moved to North Easton where he founded the
Ames Shovel works company. The company developed a lightweight
shovel much favored during the Gold rush, the settlement of the
Northwest Territory, and the Civil War. The Ames shovel was so
highly regarded that at one time it was used as “legal
tender” on the frontier.
|The Union Pacific was united with the Central Pacific
Railroad to create
the nation's first transcontinental railway.
It was during this period of prosperity
that the Ames family first became involved with politics and
national affairs. Oliver’s
son Oakes served in the U.S. Congress from 1862 to 1873. President
Abraham Lincoln, a staunch supporter of a transcontinental
railroad, personally asked Oakes Ames to take over the financially-ailing
Union Pacific. Oakes, together with his brother Oliver, undertook
the venture. Their success was celebrated on May 10, 1869,
when the “golden
spike” was driven at promontory
Point, Utah, linking the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific
Railroad and creating the country’s first transcontinental
railway. Oakes’ son Oliver continued the family’s
political involvement serving as Governor of Massachusetts
from 1887 to 1890. It was his son Oakes who pursued a career
in botany and developed Borderland.
Blanche’s family roots also go back to colonial Yankee
stock. Her mother’s side of the family included veterans
of the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War
of 1812, and the Civil War. Her most famous forebear was her
maternal grandfather Benjamin Franklin Butler. He proved himself
a military leader of high caliber as a General of the Union
Army during the Civil War.
In 1864, President Lincoln asked Butler to be his running mate
for his second term. Butler declined, believing he could better
serve the interests of his country by remaining in the army.
Had he accepted, Ben Butler—not Andrew Johnson—would
have become President following Lincoln’s assassination.
After the Civil War, Butler resumed his political career. He
returned to Lowell, Massachusetts, and was elected to the House
of Representatives. During his years in Congress, he led successful
fights for the first Civil Rights Act and a bill to curb the
activities of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1882 he became governor
of Massachusetts. Two years later, Butler ran for President
of the United States on the third party Greenback ticket.
His wife was Sarah Hildreth Butler, a Shakespearean actress
from Dracut, Massachusetts. She gave up her stage career after
their marriage, and remained in Lowell to raise their three
children while Ben Butler was in Congress. When their daughter
Blanche was a young woman, she often went to Washington to
watch her father at work. It was at the Capitol that she met
Adelbert Ames, a native of Maine who represented Mississippi
in the Senate. They were married on July 20, 1870, in Lowell.
Adelbert Ames was a much-decorated Union Army officer. He rose
rapidly through the ranks, becoming a Brigadier General of
the U.S. Volunteers and Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. Following
the Civil War, Adelbert was appointed Provisional Governor
of Mississippi. In 1870, that state sent him to the U.S. Senate,
where he served until 1873. Elected Governor of Mississippi
in 1874, he served two years before leaving politics for business,
and returning to his home and family in Lowell. He later commanded
American troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He
and Blanche Butler had six children, the fourth of whom was
the Blanche Ames of Borderland.