During the first six years of their marriage, Oakes and Blanche resided at the “Old Homestead,” the North Easton home of Oakes’ mother Anna C. Ames. Blanche was occupied with raising the children, illustrating botanical subjects, and her continuing study of art. Oakes rode the train to Cambridge each day to teach at Harvard College. Blanche was dissatisfied with their living arrangements, and it became clear that they needed a place of their own.
In 1900, Oakes began acquiring the land that would comprise Borderland. In 1906, Oakes, Blanche, and their two children, Pauline (b. 1901) and Oliver (b. 1903), moved to the Tisdale farmhouse on mountain Street in Sharon. They modified the house by adding a large piazza and a servants’ wing. Fear of fire and the threat it posed to Oakes’ extensive library prompted them to build a permanent, fireproof home elsewhere on the estate.
In 1908, they hired a Boston architect but displeased with the grandiose plans he proposed, Blanche redesigned the house herself, working closely with an engineering firm. The steel-reinforced concrete structure, made with stones salvaged from walls on the property, was an architectural novelty. The floor plan emphasized the Ameses’ scholarly interests, with its two-story library, and their devotion to the outdoors, with its many windows and porches. Construction began in 1910 and the family, which now included Amyas (b. 1906) and Evelyn (b. 1910), moved into the new house the next year. Although they also owned homes in Boston, Gloucester, and Florida, they spent the majority of their time at Borderland.
Oakes and Blanche both took an active part in life at Borderland, clearing fields, cutting firewood, gardening, and raising turkeys. One of their projects was to repair and expand the estate’s system of dams. From the beginning, they sought to develop the property as a game and forest preserve. They consulted with foresters in building the fire roads that now serve as hiking trails. In later years, they managed the estate as a wildlife sanctuary, a policy the state continues.
All was not work at Borderland. The Ames family enjoyed outdoor activities such as ice-skating, hiking, and tennis. During the winter, when outdoor tennis was impossible, Oakes and Blanche would practice against a wall inside the barn. Evenings featured musical recitals and dinner parties; the guests were often members of Oakes’ extended family, many of whom also had estates in North Easton. There were few neighbors nearby, so the children relied on each other for games and companionship. When they got older and left the public schools of Easton to attend preparatory schools in Boston, they often invited friends to Borderland for visits.