Two Days in Boston’s First Skyscraper

Completed in 1893, the Ames building is considered by many to be Boston’s first skyscraper; though, even at the time of its opening, it was never Boston’s tallest building. That honor belonged to Church of the Covenant. The Ames building also ranks as the second tallest masonry load-bearing wall structure in the world, behind Chicago’s Monadnock Building, and was constructed using sandstone from the Cleveland Quarries Co. that was carted to Boston all the way from Amherst, Ohio. (Sidenote: As a child I swam in the Amherst quarry that produced the sandstone used in the construction of the Ames Building.)

The Ames Building was commissioned, paid for and built to house the headquarters of the Ames Shovel and Tool Co., which was run by the wealthy Oakes Ames. In addition to being an industrialist, Oakes Ames was a Congressman from Massachusetts (and a fairly corrupt one at that) and was largely responsible for overseeing the construction of the Union Pacific railroad. Coincidentally, the town of Ames, Iowa (which is famous for the Republican Straw Poll that took place this past week) is named for Oakes Ames due to his involvement with the railroad.

The Ames building was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1974. In 2009, after an extensive and costly renovation by the Morgans Hotel Group, the Ames building reopened as the Ames Hotel. I had the pleasure of being a guest of the hotel last week and truly enjoyed staying in a building with such a rich history. The concept of the hotel is based on the pairing of old and new, which explains the design and decor of both the rooms and the public spaces – think Windsor chairs meets sleek modern design, and all wrapped in an amazing old 19th century sandstone building.

The entrance to the Ames Hotel as it looks today.

Above: Breakfast at the Woodward – the bar restaurant at the Ames – is not to be missed.

Old meets new in one of the Ames suites.

Above: Touches of New England. The modern decor of the rooms at the Ames is offset with quirky little items like the Farmer’s Almanac and Boston Gummy Lobsters.

While up in Boston, we wandered to a few spots on the Freedom Trail and took in the old buildings in the North End. It was decided that The Mariners’ House would make a suitable Boston HQ for ACL, the building is fitting with our Newport branch, which is shaping up nicely.

Directly across from the Ames Hotel is the Old State House, which was built in 1713 and stood as the seat of British rule in the colonies before the revolution.

With boxed lunches in hand, we headed for a picnic at Walden Pond. A perfect summer ensued.

Henry David Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond.
deCordova Sculpture Park

Sadly, by the time we got to the Cambridge Typewriter Co. it was closed. Bummer too, because that place is amazing. Though there’s always next time.

After all of our historical adventures and picnicking at Walden Pond we ended the day off with some oysters fresh from Duxbury, Mass. and dinner back at the Woodward. The perfect end to a perfect few days in Boston.

Relevant links:

The Ames Hotel

The Woodward

Walden Pond

deCordova Sculpture Park

Cambridge Typewriter

The Freedom Trail

Comments on “Two Days in Boston’s First Skyscraper

    Paul on August 15, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Love stories such as this. The Ames Building – It’s amazing to see and stand in these amazing structure – of high quality (both then and now) – and sadly remember that this building was constructed because someone was actually producing something – in the case shovels and tools (also of high quality). We have not gotten better, we’ve diluted ourselves – we want more more for less quality.

    jfox/10e on August 15, 2011 1:39 PM:

    The Woodward serves quail from our friends’ Cavendish Farm in VT. Deepfried… hmmmm Great view from that upstairs bar.

    J. Rattlesnake on August 15, 2011 5:06 PM:

    Coincidentally reading this post from the 8th floor of that very building. Quite a hotel. May have to take up your breakfast suggestion tomorrow before we head to Fenway.

    CSP on August 16, 2011 2:39 PM:

    Great post! I wrote an article on that building a few years ago. If I can find a copy, I’ll send it to you. (I used to edit a magazine for structural engineers.)

    Stu Hodgkiss on August 16, 2011 3:01 PM:

    Great imagery!

    Enjoyed the post, look forward to more…

    Todd V on August 16, 2011 3:20 PM:

    Hate to be that guy, but I believe this is the second-tallest *commercial* masonry-load bearing structure in the world. There are taller, non-commercial masonry buildings, the second tallest being Philadelphia’s City Hall.

    Michael K on August 16, 2011 5:06 PM:

    A post about Boston! Thanks, I like it! Come back soon!

    Andy on August 17, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Really nice post about a time when wealthy Americans made money manufacturing goods.

    Chris on August 17, 2011 6:30 PM:

    I must give kudos to the current hotel. The rooms are excellently designed (world class in fact, though I didn’t get much of a sense of history) and the prices are ok. Great to hear some of the history.

    TMH on August 18, 2011 12:19 AM:


    Ami on August 28, 2011 5:27 AM:

    second to last photo – island creek oyster bar? one of my favourites back in boston.

Comments are closed.