Ahhhh, finally good internet as we drive along I-91 from Vermont toward Camden, Maine. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up a bit. This is one drive where even the interstate is scenic. Now we enter the time warp and “Beam us back to Massachusetts.”
There are so many historical sites in the Boston area we knew we’d be able to see only a handful during the first trip here. Some stops were planned while others were because of convenience or location. On one overcast day we stopped at the Saugus Ironworks National Historic Site. We’d never heard about it until we started trying to see all of the National Park sites as part of our Bucket List. This is a small but very interesting place. Do take time to go on the Ranger led tours to get the most out of your time there. We did 2 short tours, one of the Ironworks and one of the home called Broadhearth, built later on the property. The significance of this site is that it was the first ironwork established in the colonies. The buildings you see here are reconstructions built on the original foundations.
Recognizing New England’s great fishing and timber resources the colonists knew their financial future lay in the processing and export of these materials. Salt pans to evaporate sea water for salt to process fish and tools for cutting, sawing and finishing timber were needed as were tools for building and home goods. Where on the east coast does one find iron? They found it in the bogs and ponds throughout the area. Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, was very supportive of developing an ironworks. His son went to England to locate investors. The odd named company of the Undertakers of the Ironworks was formed. Saugus Ironworks began operation in 1646. The foundry fabricated cast iron pots, salt pans and firebacks and wrought iron merchant bars, tools and nails.
Located along a river water power operated the huge bellows for the smelting furnace. Using bog iron ore and a local rock from Nahant known as gabbro for flux the furnace turned out molten iron that was cooled in sand pits. The sand troughs were long with shorter sections running perpendicularly. Since this looked like a sow feeding piglets it became known as “pig iron”. Sand forms or pottery casts were used to make the final product hence the name cast iron. Cast iron was quite brittle. For tools, nails and merchant bars used for shaping other items the cast iron was hammered into stronger wrought iron. During our tour the Ranger told us that only seven firebacks known to be made at Saugus still existed. two years ago someone had found one in their basement and had donated it to them. Firebacks were decorative plates incorporated into brickwork at the back of a fireplace. They absorbed heat and radiated it outwards into the room. Makes you wonder what other treasures are buried in attics and basements across the country?
The museum located next to the Visitors Center had many interesting exhibits from archeological digs in the region to history of the many nationalities that worked at the ironworks. One of the largest groups were 150 Scot prisoners sent here as indentured servants to work as woodcutters in 1650. They had been taken prisoner by Cromwell’s armies at the Battle of Dunbar and sold to members of the Undertakers Company. We know that most made the transition from a rural lifestyle in Scotland to a new industry and country. At least five learned skilled trades and their families formed the core of American industrial workers.
The house, named Broadhea rth, had fallen into severe disrepair by the early 1900s. This seems to be a time when wealthy Americans were beginning to assist with restoration of historical places. Who should step forward to assist here but the daughter of E. I. DuPont, Louise du Pont Kroninshield. Not only was she the daughter of one of America’s richest men (please see our post on Winterthur) but she married into one of the Brahmin families of the Boston area. You will hear more about the Kroninshields when we post about Salem and their maritime history. We are constantly surprised as we move from place to place to see connections like this occur. Louise du Pont Kroninshield teamed with Nutting for this restoration.
Even though it was an overcast day the boat house and bog iron boat gave me one of my favorite photos. I took the original and processed it in various post processing techniques for HDR, oil paint and watercolor. I have my favorite. What is yours?