THP #35: Shoveltown USA

November 14, 2022 – Easton, Massachusetts
Stonehill vs Buffalo
Women’s Basketball

The day I started writing this post was the same day my wife and I assembled our daughter’s crib.

She’ll be here shortly, could be just a month or so, and I couldn’t be more excited. When we found out my wife was pregnant I very casually said “Wonderful, we’re having a daughter.” How did I know? I didn’t. But I did.

It still doesn’t seem real. We’re both still working and living our lives. I’m still dirtbagging around doing this blog. Bella is still being a lovable pest around the house.

We’ve gotten plenty of bad parenting advice and shitty jokes from older relatives. Our friends with kids have been incredibly supportive, insightful, and help calm the nerves.

You’ll see Bella shortly, but I can’t stress how much having her got me ready to be a dad. Yes, a dog certainly isn’t a baby, but raising a puppy and raising a kid do have many similarities. I call it preseason for parenting.

When we got Bella we had a few weeks of sleepless nights, total confusion, anger, resentment, love, fear, all of the emotions. The first time Bella didn’t follow me into the bathroom after we had had her a few days I sat on the toilet and wept at the relief of having space for myself.

With our daughter coming I hold onto those feelings and memories from a year ago. Each day was a tiny bit easier than the last. Each problem my wife and I got through together. Every event and incident was a learning experience for all of us.

And then all at once, and without realizing it, I was an absolute sap and a mush for this dog and can’t imagine life without her. With our daughter the length of time will be much longer, but I reckon it’ll feel the same. I got through that storm once, and I know I can do it again.

I already love you Claire. Please be good sleeper.

And as promised, here now is a moment with Bella

Stonehill College

Donahue Hall
The Ames Mansion was the first building at the college. It is now known as Donahue Hall, home of Stonehill’s administration offices.

Stonehill is located in Easton, a town of 25,000 people about 25 miles south of Boston. It’s more notable neighbor, Brockton, is a city of 105,000 and was the home of world champion boxers Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Rocky Marciano.

Stonehill is one of just three colleges in Bristol County, and the second stop of the project in the county after UMass-Dartmouth.

Founded in 1948 by the Congregation of Holy Cross, Stonehill is a small school with just 2,500 students. However, it offers a wide suite of 47 majors and 51 minors for the student body.

One of the centerpieces of campus is the MacPhaidin Library. With over 600,000 square feet of space, more space than my local mall, it is the heartbeat of campus and houses more than a quarter million volumes in its walls.


The architectural vibe of the campus is meant to work in synergy with the famous look of Donahue Hall that stands atop the hill overlooking the grounds.

School of Arts and Sciences built in 2018
Donahue Hall from street level.

But the real showpiece for me was in Cushing-Martin Hall. Take a walk up the back stairs and down a long hallway, and it opens up into a brightly lit lobby and this monster of a case is staring at you:

The Oliver Ames Company display for the Centennial Exposition: Philadelphia, 1876.

Welcome to the shovel museum.

Stonehill Shovel Museum

Technically it’s a part of the Stonehill Archives, but that’s not a fun name.

The shovel museum is part of a larger collection dedicated to the Ames family. Remember that mansion atop the hill? That was the home of Frederick Lothrop Ames. He was the great-grandson of Oliver Ames (aka Old Oliver) who founded the Ames Shovel Company.

Frederick’s father, Oliver Ames Jr, was president of Union Pacific Railroad when the company was constructing the first transcontinental railroad in the country.

The Ames family is a dynasty of Easton and has had a hand in much of the town’s growth. Old Oliver’s grandson, also named Oliver Ames, is the namesake of the town’s high school. Another of Old Oliver’s sons, Oakes, was the president of Ames Shovel Company.

Letters and correspondence from many members of the Ames family.

Now everything I learned about shovels I learned from archivist Nicole Casper, who was a delightful tour guide. I dubbed her the Shovel Queen of New England, and, since I know she will read this, I really think that should go on her business cards.

She gave me the whole history of the Ames family and company. Oliver Jr. and Oakes saw the company rise to prominence during the California gold rush and the construction of the Erie Canal. Their shovels were so wanted that they were used as currency.

By the end of the 19th century, 60% of all the world’s shovels were made by the Ames Shovel Company. At its height, the company had a factory in Easton and one in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

I was also lucky enough to get a photo with Oakes himself.

Speaking of Oakes, he was a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts. But, his work on the transcontinental railroad brought him some acclaim in the Midwest. So much so in one Iowa town that they named it after him. Long story short, Iowa State is a New England school and this project got a lot harder.

Just off the atrium with all the Ames family letters was a forgettable metal door. Behind it though…

Big shovels. Small shovels. Long shovels. Short shovels. Shovel materials. Shovel handles. There were 783 shovels all made by the Ames company from various eras in various styles.

The oldest shovel in the collection was dated from 1774, which would have been made by Old Oliver’s father John in his shop in nearby West Bridgewater.

The oldest shovel.

Nicole said that the shovel does not move. If people want to film it they shoot it where it stands and that’s it.

One of the showpiece shovels was also my favorite because it was designed to harvest one of our planet’s greatest foods: potatoes.

Ames Malleable Iron Potato Scoop

The aisles kept going and going. There were shovels made for pretty much every war in American history. There were shovels under all sorts of different brand names. Those shovels from the beginning of this section? Yeah, those are silver-plated in such a way that they never tarnish. Nicole said they still don’t know the composition of the alloy and why it maintains its shine. The shovels made by Ames were, and are, quality bits of kit.

In 2002, the school looked to change its name from Chieftains to something different. Shovelmakers was an option. I can only dream of what the mascot would have looked like.

There is no room in New England quite like what’s behind that non-descript door.

Sitting in a glass case in the library is the senior class shovel. Nicole explained to me that it’s tradition for the senior class president to pick a shovel that is then displayed all year in the library.

However, there are some rules. The shovel can’t have been chosen already. The shove has to fit in the already-made display case. And, of course, you can’t use the oldest shovel.

This year’s shovel is a regular ole spade with the extremely minor tweak that instead of a handle it has a full pickaxe at the other. Nicole said it’s her favorite shovel.

It’s shovels all the way down at Stonehill. I was even given a gift on my way out: a shovel-shaped pencil.

Thank you so much for the hospitality Nicole. It was a perfectly strange way to spend a Monday afternoon.

And if you’re interested in seeing the shovels yourself it’s totally free, you just need to email Nicole and the archives department to set up a tour.

The Good Eats

Nicole recommended I go to a local pizza shop for dinner. However, it wasn’t open on Mondays which is a fault of the restaurant and nobody else. One day I’ll get there.

Instead I went to Maguire’s, a nearby Irish pub. Inside and out it looked the part.

Now I pride myself on keeping this a positive site. It’s basketball, it’s food, it’s fun. However, sometimes you have a meal that, well…I’ll have someone better than me describe the food.

I mixed it up and got Jimmy A’s Favorite, a thanksgiving sandwich.

A sandwich not worthy of being in focus

The sandwich was alright turkey, cranberry sauce, mayo, and homemade stuffing. I’ve had plenty of stuffing in my day; I’d bet the life of my mother that it was Stove Top in that sandwich. That’s fine, I love Stove Top. I keep it in the house year round. Just don’t tell me you’re serving me something you aren’t.

The fries were fine, the Diet Coke was good, and that was that. We have friends that live a town over; next time we go visit we’ll go to Nicole’s recommended spot. Not like I’ll be coming back here.

The Game

From the outside, Merkert Gymnasium looks like any other academic building, and it kind of is.

Merkert Gym

There were active classes going on when I walked in. I was told by staff that the classes are from a variety of different disciplines.

When you walk in the door you’re greeted by a lobby that’s, well, a lobby. There’s a ticket table, a small stand with snacks, standard stuff.

Merkert lobby

The actual gym is down a set of stairs.

It’s not a big gym, with a capacity of just 1,560. It’s tight and cozy. All of the seats are just purple bleachers. No seats have chairbacks.

On one wall are a slew of banners dedicated to the program’s D2 success in the Northeast-10.

One odd quirk of Merkert is the scoreboard. The colors of the numbers change based on which team is leading, and the color of the time changes based on I’m not sure what.

I’ve probably been to more than 500 basketball games in my life across a few hundred gyms. Never have I seen a scoreboard like this.

The game itself featured the Skyhawks hosting the reigning MAC champions, the Buffalo Bulls. Buckets fell early, but good lord was it anything but easy.

The second quarter in particular was a brutal stretch for both teams. The squads shot a combined 42.1 % during the period and combined for seven turnovers.

The Bulls led for the majority of the first half, but the Skyhawks kept finding answers. They would go into halftime tied at 25.

The Bulls were anchored by fifth-year Zakiyah Winfield. The Pennsylvanian found ways to get it done on both ends of the court. This block helped the Bulls stay ahead.

But even with Winfield doing great things, Maureen Stapleton and the Skyhawks retook the lead midway through the third.

Stonehill found ways to respond. But Buffalo had Zakiyah Winfield.

Winfield was partnered by a great 16-point performance from Jazmine Young off the bench, and Buffalo grew an eight-point lead after three quarters and seemed primed to put the game away.

They didn’t.

That three from Maddie Loder put Stonehill ahead with five minutes to play in the game. The crowd there for the Skyhawks home D1 debut was percolating.

And then finally, after 35 minutes, the Bulls finally made that run. And who got the mojo going? Who do you think?

Sophie Glidden put the Skyhawks back ahead on the next possession, and then Jazmine Young took the long way around.

Then Winfield to extend it to three.

And finally, Hattie Ogden stepped into a three.

Buffalo 62, Stonehill 56. Final.
Player of the Game: Zakiyah Winfield (UB) – 12 pts, 10 rbds, 3 stl, 2 ast, 1 blk
Time of Game: 1:39:43

After the game, I had a chance to talk with Trisha Brown, the 22nd-year head coach of the Skyhawks. Her resume is sterling with more than 400 wins, six Northeast-10 championships, three Sweet 16s, and an Elite Eight appearance in 2018. The move to D1 just kind of happened as it was announced in the spring with very little buildup.

“It was pretty sudden,” Brown said. “When it was announced in the spring we were going right away. They did say they were researching it and were going to put the bid in, but that happened very quickly.”

The one thing she kept going back to was how excited the players were. Having the chance to compete for the school in its first year as a Division I program was a point of pride.

“Our goal right now in terms of the whole season is to continue to get better, but I feel like if we can measure our success by improving then ready to compete when the NEC season comes around,” Brown said.

Brown specifically noted fifth-year players Emily Bramanti and Sophie Glidden, who could have left the program after four years but chose to come back to help guide the Skyhawks into the NEC.

The big goal is to compete and, hopefully, win the league like the Merrimack men, also formerly of the NE-10, did in their first year in the conference in 2020.

“They could have made the decision to not have back,” Brown said. “I love their attitude about it is that this is a historic year, and they’re going to be a part of a historic change in our program. I know we’ll be ok.”

A week after the game against Buffalo the Skyhawks picked up their first D1 victory: a 62-35 win over Hartford. Glidden had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Bramanti had 11 points and tied for the game-high with three assists.

Thanks for taking the time to read. This was definitely one of the more fun stops of the project. If you live somewhere in southern Massachusetts I highly recommend getting over to Easton and catching a game.

And before you go, here’s one for the road…