Sharon, Massachusetts – This less-frequented 5.1 mile route at the historic Borderland State Park features a lovely forest setting, with some small but manageable inclines/declines. We saw more bikers than we did hikers, but this trail could be accomplished by anyone who has the time and inclination. The pond had a lovely, curious vista, but otherwise, everything was a peaceful forest route with a few wooden bridges traversing small streams and wetlands.
Read on for some truly fascinating facts about the Ames Mansion (and family), as well as the Indigenous Massachusett Tribe that originally existed – and still exist! – on this beautiful land.
Know Before You Go
Length: 5.1 miles
Map: Borderland State Park Trail Map
Notes: Wearing orange is not required, but is recommended
Indigenous Land: “Borderland” State Park is appropriately named for its location as the territorial boundary between two Native American tribes, the Massachusett and the Wampanoag (more below)
- Park on the side of the road on Massapoag Ave, near Mansfield Street
- Follow the Ridge Trail until you reach the Morse Loop Trail (signs are at most of the trail intersections, but it was helpful to us to use our GPS – I used the Strava app to track our route)
- The one non-forest vista we enjoyed was at the edge of the small pond; we looped around and came back the way we went out, though I would like to try the full Morse Loop Trail to Friends Trail and back along the Granite Hills Trail (Upper Loop) and Northwest Trail.
Though our route kept us fairly socially distanced (excellent during a pandemic), it should be noted that one of Borderland State Park’s more interesting highlights is the Ames Mansion, which you can read more about on the National Register of Historic Places’ website, or, you know, below….
Fun Facts about the Ames Mansion (subtitle: damn, my life is dull):
- The mansion served as home to the Ames Family for around 70 years and was donated to the state in 1971, which is an amazing gift of nearly 2,000 acres of lovely property to the people, flora, and fauna of Massachusetts.
- The family matriarch, Blanche Ames (née Ames), sounds like a total boss badass – she took over the design and construction management of the mansion after she got frustrated with the architect; she was active in the suffragist movement, gaining notoriety as a political cartoonist; Blanche was one of the earliest advocates for birth control, co-founding the Birth Control League of Massachusetts; she was an accomplished artist who painted many of the portraits in the mansion and illustrated her husband’s botany books; she was also an inventor and an innovative farmer. We need the Blanche Ames Ames movie asap!
- Her husband, Oakes Ames, has one of the coolest names ever and discovered over 1,000 species of orchids; his collection is housed at Harvard University, where he studied and taught.
- The Ames Family made their wealth from shovels, of all things, including those solicited by Lincoln to supply the Union army, as well as pick-axes that were sold to coal miners during the gold rush.
- Oakes Ames’ grandfather, Congressman Oakes Ames (nicknamed the “King of Spades” early in life) is depicted in the AMC series Hell on Wheels thanks to his role in as a railroad financier. At the end of his life, he developed another nickname, “Hoax Ames,” after he became involved with an insider trading scandal, the stress of which many believe ultimately led to his stroke and eventual death.
- Despite this scandal, the Congressman and his brother, Oliver, have a monument in Wyoming – a 60 foot pyramid with their heads in 9-foot-tall bas-relief on the sides – which is the tallest point on the Transcontinental Railroad that they financed.
- Three films were at least partially filmed in the mansion: 2019’s “Knives Out,” the 2016 reboot of “Ghostbusters,” and Martin Scorsese’s 2012 “Shutter Island.”
- Tours of the first floor or all three floors are available (though not during COVID).
As noted above, “Borderland” State Park is appropriately named for its location as the territorial boundary between two Native American tribes, the Massachusett (or Massachuset) and the Wampanoag. The Massachusett Tribe was large and powerful in the area, which in according to Access Geneology, circa 1614, “held an important place among the tribes of south New England.” Within a few years, their tribe was decimated by war, murder, and disease, and the survivors were removed from their unceded ancestral homelands and resettled to what the English called “Praying Indian Towns,” meaning towns that offered some protection for indigenous people who had converted to the Christian religion of the colonists.
Many descendants of the first people still live and thrive in the area today. Surviving members of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapaug have developed an interesting website outlining their history as well as their current tribal structure and culture, noting:
“We against all odds have survived as the descendants of the first people of Massachusetts. We continue to survive as Massachusett people because we have retained the oral tradition of storytelling just as our ancestors did. This tradition passes on the Massachusett view of how our world works, our relationship with all of nature and why things are the way they are.”
Indigenous Place Names
Many place names in New England stem directly from Algonquin descriptors. As you can see in the map below, Sharon, the town from which we began our hike, was historically named “Massapoag” (note that we parked on Massapoag Street for this hike); “massa” in the Algonquin language means “big” or “large;” “Massawachusett” means “great mountain place” (where now call the Blue Hills); and of course, Wachusett then means “mountain place.” Sooooo…. Wachusett Mountain = “The Mountain Place Mountain.” We should enjoy some chai tea the next time we visit!
Final note: Because we parked on the side of the road rather than in one of the official Borderland State Park parking lots, we did not have to pay the typical parking fee. I chose instead to donate to the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapaug to support their continued work of retaining their oral and written history (to counteract the settler-colonial history that most of us were taught in mainstream school). I invite you to consider making a small donation to a local indigenous tribe, too.
Read more about Borderland State Park & plan your trip: