Sadratu’l- Muntaha

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September 27, 2017, Prescott-

NOTE:  The title term refers to a tree, planted at a terminus of a road, in ancient Arabia.  It could signify either an ending or a beginning.

What, exactly, is a barrier?

Which is the beginning, and which, the ending?

I recall that every walk around Saugus began at our back door.

So, too, did every journey end there.

My formal education began in September, 1956, at the Felton School.

It ended in August, 1987, when I completed my administrative credential, at Northern Arizona University.

My time as a Roman Catholic began with my baptism.

It ended with my declaration as a member of the Baha’i Faith.

Now, I live in an apartment, in Prescott, Arizona; work as a teacher aide, at Prescott High School; am a devoted adherent to the Teachings of Baha’u’llah.

Do I still consider Saugus a place in my heart?

Am I still learning?

Do I still revere Jesus the Christ?

In each case, the answer will always be “Yes”.

Will I not again travel?

Will I close my mind to new ideas?

Will I turn aside from the Creator?

In each case, “No”.

What, exactly, is a barrier?

It occurs to me, that each barrier is a self-imposed ending.

 

Selective, or Snooty?

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April 24, 2017, Prescott- 

It’s no deep secret that I have issues with those who build walls of snobbery around themselves. I’ve found them everywhere, from my home town of Saugus,  to Jeju, Korea, and to my present home base of Prescott.

Usually, snobs rely on “isms”, to validate their choices.  There are those who fall back on their self-perceived intelligence, while forgetting that the late George Plimpton, and others, routinely ridiculed their insolence.  There are others, “hipsters”, who brag about their sense of aesthetics, overlooking the beauty of simplicity.  Money, status in the community, and a misperceived “racial purity” are other sources of walls. Even in small communities, and communities of colour, subgroups operate to either maintain a false sense of superiority or to ingratiate themselves with those in power.  Seventeen years ago, a woman spread filth about my family and me, in a small desert community.  She had arrived  ten years earlier, from Ohio.  Here in Prescott, another individual, an attendant at a local fitness center, turns her head, sharply and disdainfully, whenever anyone over the age of forty approaches.

I have my own sense of selectivity.  I stay clear of fast food restaurants, many chain stores, and most Big Box establishments.  There is no shortage of people who would cry “Snoot”, at this information, and perhaps they’re right.  I do not, however, treat others with disdain, based on age, physical appearance,  mannerisms,perceived intelligence level, economic status or skin pigmentation.  Even the snobs get a fair hearing.

I have made the observation that fear is behind most snobbery.  If the wall-builders would stop and take several deep breaths, perhaps they would realize that nothing of consequence would befall them, were they to open the blinds, and take off the blinders.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XXIV: The “First Home” Coast

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April 17, 2017, Prescott-   Last, but never least, on my recap of what has mattered most to me, in jaunts around the contiguous United States, are the special places that are on, or within a few hours of, the Atlantic Coast.

I’m a native of Massachusetts, so the places and people of Boston and the North Shore have had the most direct influence on the me that you see.  My special places in Saugus are still the Ironworks (now Saugus Ironworks National Historic Site), Breakheart Reservation, the Marsh (near where my middle brother lives) and anywhere along the old rail path, now a Rails to Trails hiking and biking route.  Kowloon and Prince Spaghetti House are still around; Hilltop Steak House and Augustine’s Italian Restaurant are not.

Lynn and Nahant still mean The Beach, and as a teen, I went to Fireplace 10, as that was where Saugus kids hung together.  The evening before I was to ship out for VietNam, I was with two of my mates at The Beach.  A rent-a-cop wanted to haul me in, for “being bombed”. I had had two sips of a 12-0z. can of Budweiser.  His sergeant heard my story of being about to head for the war zone, and let us go, with the comment, “Next time I see YOU here, is a year from now, right?”  “Yes, sir.”

There are almost as many beaches, along the Coast, as there are rent-a-cops.  Crane’s Beach was the site of one of my part-time jobs, after the Army.  Yep, I was a rent-a-cop.  I tried to arrest an Ipswich Selectman (town councilman) for being drunk and disorderly.  Guess how that worked out.  My favourite beach is still Hampton, NH- it had the biggest waves, when I was a kid.  Salem, Marblehead, Newburyport  and all of Cape Ann (Gloucester area) are my favourite seaport towns.  Gloucester House and Woodman’s (Essex) are fave seafood places, with Kelly’s, in Saugus, good as well, especially for take-out.

The rest of New England certainly has featured prominently, from childhood, on.  The White Mountains and Cape Cod were yearly fixtures of our family summers.  Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island were places where I got my toes wet, in terms of ferry trips and island adventures.  I didn’t get up to Maine much, except to Aunt Marie’s dairy farm, in Eliot, just over the New Hampshire line.  Now, I’ve been all over the Pine Tree State.  Cadillac Mountain, Kingfield, Moosehead Lake and coastal York County are all special areas.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, I used to enjoy Larrison’s Chicken Farm, near Bedminster, NJ, until it closed.  The diners of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, like the Mark Twain, on Hwy 22 (aka the Death Trap-the road, not the dining spot), and Bedford Diner, off the PA Turnpike, remain close to my heart, though my doc would prefer I leave such places in the rear view mirror.  Annapolis and Cumberland are  intensely special places, at either end of little Maryland.

I have fond memories of the great cities- Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington have all been kind, when I have either passed through, or had extended stays.  Boston Public Library is one of a kind as an edifice, and rules, as a grand place of public learning; so, too, does the Library of Congress.  I have had mixed experiences in DC- the security force, in the Bush II Era, gave us, and those near us, an unpleasant time, in July, 2007.  When I next visited the Nation’s Capital, in 2011 and 2014, all was delightful.

The Southeast is not as deeply ingrained in me, as the rest of the Atlantic Coast.  There are some special spots, though-  Martinsburg, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Hilton Head, St. Simons,  Savannah,Okefenokee and St. Augustine are this solo traveler’s  “feels like home”.  The Atlanta and Tampa areas have family, so they are built-in magnets.

Florida, south of The Villages, remains a mystery to me.  At some point, I will solve that puzzle.  Charleston (SC), Baltimore, Delmarva and the Hampton Roads area are, likewise, places that will get special attention, sooner or later.

Well, that’s it, for now.  I’m back to work, tomorrow and will be back in eastern AZ, next weekend.  Have a great post-Easter week, one and all!

No Black Thursday

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November 24, 2016, Julian, CA-  This little town, northeast of San Diego, has been our Thanksgiving hub, for three of the last four years.  Only in 2014 were we diverted to Aram’s ship, for what was an estimable meal, in its own right.  Otherwise, Julian Cafe has been an irresistible venue- for one of the best traditional Thanksgiving meals this side of the Appalachians.

Julian appeals to Aram, because it reminds him of Prescott and Flagstaff.  The oak forests that surround the town, and the Laguna Mountains, to its southeast, are of immense comfort to one who was born , and spent his first years, in a forested landscape.

It appeals to me, as all mountain towns do, because Saugus ( my home town), and so many towns in New England, are similarly entwined with rugged landscapes and a wealth of historical nuggets.  Julian’s history is inextricably linked to the California Gold Rush.  Southern California had several spots which, while not as noteworthy as the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, nontheless contributed to Gold Fever.

What appeals to neither of us is Black Thursday, as some have taken to calling the afternoon and evening of Thanksgiving Day.  There may be some LIMITED need for some people to pick up groceries, in the morning, as I did on behalf of Aram and his housemates, around 8:30 this morning, at the local Ralph’s store.  I can’t see either of us shopping for deals on Thanksgiving, ever.  I understand some want that to be their Thanksgiving tradition, but I stay with family remaining focused on non-commercial pursuits.

We had another awesome meal, with his two housemates along.  This will be the last time, though, for at least three years, as he heads across the Pacific, in a few months’ time.  That made it an especially treasured repast.

 

My Life Thus Far: The Fifties

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January 26, 2016, Prescott-

I have decided to look at my 6 1/2 decades, in terms of each year’s high point, low point,places and people in the heart, and amazing things. Where there are no listed “People in the heart”, Mom and Dad were a given. Obviously, this has meant some very deep psychic chrononautics, memories and reflections, with regard to my first decade, the 1950’s; so, here goes.

1950- High Point:  I bounced out, towards the end of the year, albeit almost feet first.

           Low Point:  Almost coming out feet first.

          People in the heart-Mom and Dad,  my three living grandparents.

1951- High Point:   Being the center of attention.

           Low Point:  Uncle Jim went to war.

           Places in the heart:  Gooch Street, Melrose (our first home) and the duplex on                      Central Street, Saugus (our second home).

1952- High Point: My sister, Cheryl, was born.

            Low Point:  Dad worked nights.

            People in the heart:  Cheryl, Cousin Dale, Grandma.

1953- High Point: Playing with Pal, the collie mix.

            Low Point:  Grampy died.                                                                                                                    

            Places in the heart: Grandma’s house, Aunt Hazel’s and Uncle Ellie’s house.

1954- High Point:  Walking up to Grandma’s by myself.

            Low Point:  Getting spanked for it.

           People in the heart:  My paternal aunts, Carol and Margie, who were my first teen              babysitters; two little girls who were my friends, but whose names I forget, and                  Russ, the first boy to be my friend.

1955-High Point: David was born.

            Low Point:  Moving to Adams Avenue, to what at first struck me as a shack. (Dad                 and Mom made it into a real home, though).

             People in the heart:  My first peer friends- Eddie, Allan, Mario and Tommy.

             Place in the heart:  Conrad’s Farm (They had horses!)

1956- High Point: Learning to read.

              Low Point:  Realizing I was different from the other First graders.

              People in the heart:  Miss Lavin (my First Grade teacher); Father Lawrence                          McGrath (who gave me First Communion); Donna, Ellen and Nancy W., my girl                  classmates.

1957- High Point: Getting to go up Blueberry Hill by myself.

            Low Point:  Getting bullied in the neighbourhood.

            People in the heart: Bobby Matthews, who stood up for me; Jimmy and Jack, my                  friends down the street.

            Places in the heart:  Blueberry Hill, where I hiked and sledded; Pleasant Creek,                    where I went to meditate.

1958- High Points:  Learning my multiplication facts; family visit to Cape Cod.

            Low Point:  Getting pelted in the head with acorns.

            People in the heart:  New friends Charlie and Clyde; Miss Nugent (my Third Grade              teacher.

            Places in the heart:  Johns Pond, Cape Cod;  The Field, and Nannygoat Hill, Saugus.

1959-High Points:  Visiting family in Stamford, CT; vacation in the White Mountains of               New Hampshire.

          Low Point:  My friend and classmate, Donna,moved.

          People in the heart:  Cousins Danny, Kathy and John.

          Places in the heart :   High Street, after dinner during Daylight Savings Time;                     Franconia Notch and North Conway, NH.

Amazing things in my 1950’s- The transformation of 48 Adams Avenue into a nice family home. All the times I walked into neighbours’ unlocked houses, when I was 5 &6, until Father McGrath mentioned, at Sunday School, that it was wrong.  A teen party upon which I happened, at age 8. (They let me stay a while, long enough to realize just how beautiful girls are).   Learning the joys of walking, which took me everywhere in Saugus.

This was the time of American Bandstand, Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry, and my first forays into nerdiness:  Perry Mason,  Feep’s Fantasmic Features and Hawaiian Eye.  It was when I learned that not all grown-ups liked kids, even when they worked with us.  There were those, like my First and Third Grade teachers, who did love us.  They are the ones I remember most clearly.

As the Fifties closed, I was slowly branching out as a person.

 

 

 

 

The Road to 65, Mile 236: Back to California, Day 6, Part 3: A Resilient Queen

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July 22, 2015, Santa Barbara- Mission Santa Barbara is the sixth  California mission I have visited, and only the second I have visited twice, along with San Diego de Alcala.  The first time scarcely counts, though, as the interior had closed.  The same is true of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which was about to close when we got there, in 1997.

Yet, let’s get back to the splendidly restored Santa Barbara, “Queen of the Missions”, and another erstwhile casualty of the earthquake of 1925.  The community knew only one thing to do, afterwards, and that was to rebuild.

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Even with its modern ambiance, Mission Santa Barbara exudes a strong spirituality, especially in its courtyard garden.

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The Tower at Pisa has nothing on this olive tree.

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This garden font was operating on trickle mode, enough to show the tenacity of the “Queen”, whilst also showing sensitivity to the overall situation in the State of California.

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This Mission is one of several which has one public entrance, through the gift shop, where a cashier collects the $8 fee (for adults, 18-64).  The restoration work has all come from visitors’ fees, so they’ve been put to good use.

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The bell tower, and much of the northern section of the Mission, are off limits to visitors.

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As with other Spanish colonial structures, the walkways are shored up by exposed beams, in the ceilings.

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Various small chapels are dedicated to Mother and Child, throughout the periphery of the Mission Church.

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St. Peter is shown, honouring his suffering Lord.

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The cemetery dates from the 1770’s.

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Garden plots and funerary chapels are common here.

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The doorway to the Mission Church is guarded by three skulls, so as to prevent malevolence from entering the sanctuary.

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Silence is maintained here, as the church is an active parish’s place of worship, first and foremost.

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The framed flat column is a unique feature of Mission Santa Barbara.  At least, I’ve not seen it in any other missions.  It is intended as a place to make offerings.

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Chumash art is found throughout the Mission, as well.  This chandelier anchor also guards against demons.

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The Chumash are among the first Indigenous nations to share their painting skills with Europeans.

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In the museum rooms, details of daily mission life are made clear.  This is a depiction of the friary kitchen.  It reminds me of its counterpart at Mission San Luis, in Tallahassee.

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Between the Mission Church and the museum, Christ is depicted as a man of strength and courage, comforting Mary Magdalene.

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This aqueduct was the place where Chumash workers would bathe, and wash their garments.

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Although La Huerta, the signature garden of Mission Santa Barbara, was off-limits, the Olive Trail Garden, as well as the Courtyard Garden shown aforehand, were open to visitors. I have become quite enamored of anything bright red, on this trip.

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It was hot, being mid-afternoon, so I bid farewell to the Queen of Missions, with a nod to its place in the skyline.

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Thus, my northward journey to the south-facing coastline began to wind down.  Eastward ho!  I drove to Santa Clarita, the recently incorporated (1987) conglomeration of San Fernando Valley communities, due east of Santa Barbara, and opted for the familiar format of Chili’s,in the Newhall section, as a dinner venue, foregoing a brief plan to head into the Saugus section of town, for a meal at Los Angeles County’s oldest restaurant.  It was getting too late,but next time out- Saugus, CA will be on the itinerary.

A few hours later, via Palmdale and Victorville, I made my evening destination of Barstow.  Motel 66 is a clean and eminently affordable Mom & Pop west side establishment, and I don’t need anything more. Tomorrow, I will head back to home base, through the familiar Mohave Desert and uplands of Yavapai County.

The Road to 65, Mile 99: Bloody Sunday

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March 7, 2015, Banning-  In July, 2011, I happened by Selma, AL, and spent a day walking around the city, crossing the Edmund L. Pettis Bridge, looking over and seeing the Alabama River, which, miraculously, did not claim any lives on March 7, 1965, though humans took the lives of other humans, over a period of three weeks.  I spoke with a ranger at the Selma Civil Rights National Historical Site, who noted that race relations were a tad better now than they were during the immediate aftermath of the turmoil.  Paying my respects at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial, near Hayneville, I pondered that people change their behaviour at the behest of outside influences, such as the government, but not until their hearts change, are the objects of their disdain even remotely safe.

We have made some progress, in getting along, over the years.  There are more people of colour in my hometown of Saugus, MA, than when I was growing up.  I was raised not to think disparagingly of others, based on race, much less to speak so.  Quite frankly, I felt as shocked and disappointed when Malcolm X (who my father thought was making good changes in his life) and Martin Luther King, Jr. were executed.  Yes, both, in my mind, were acts of officially-sanctioned murder- as the assassinations of  John and Robert Kennedy probably were, also.

People in Prescott, my current home, are outwardly accepting of others, regardless of race. Yet, I have it on good authority (from a racist-in-recovery, no less), that many in the town are still emotionally stuck in the 1950’s and ’60’s, if not in the Jim Crow Era.

To say that we are all racist, to some degree is an overstatement- and a dodge.  Everyone does need to work on raising their consciousness level, but that applies across the board, not just with respect to how we deal with those of other ethnicities and pigmentation.

I am spending tonight in Banning, a city in western Riverside County, CA.  Banning had serious trouble during both Los Angeles riots, though it seems to have quieted quite alot, in the few times I have been here since 1992.  Quiet,though, does not necessarily mean peace.

I would be overjoyed to see people interact positively with each other, regardless of background, on a regular basis.  I do see more of that with Millennials and Post- Millennials, and hope and pray that this will remain a lifelong habit for those generations- and that the rest of us remember the idealism of our own youth, and ponder just what it is that has deflected that idealism.  We’re not done growing, yet.

The Road to 65, Mile 29: Darkening, Below the Peaks

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December 27, 2014, Phoenix-   When I was 18, and working at the General Electric Company’s Riverworks, in Lynn, MA, word came up the pipes that one of our town’s favourite police officers, Augustine J. “Gus” Belmonte, had been slain, while busting up a robbery attempt at a Saugus restaurant.  Rumours flew about that it was an execution, ordered by this or that Mob boss.  Gus was a man of the people, and enforced the law in an even-handed, humane manner.  It turned out that the killers were Irish-American thugs, but not tied to any crime family, per se.  All Saugus turned out to see Gus off to his place in Heaven.

I was a jerk-wad kid, back then, and probably struck a lot of people as being barely able to tie my own shoelaces, but I thought the world of Augustine J. Belmonte.  He was in the prime of his life, forty-four years of age, when the Lord called him home.

Fast forward, nearly forty-six years later, to Flagstaff, AZ.  Tyler Stewart, a young man from north Phoenix, serving in his first year as a police officer on the Flagstaff force, responded to a domestic violence call, in one of the mountain town’s few tough neighbourhoods.  The perp got the officer’s confidence by seeming to be polite and co-operative, then got the drop on Officer Stewart.  Tyler Stewart was 24.

Flagstaff is a university community, a ski resort and an outdoorsman’s year-round paradise.  The San Francisco Peaks, an alpine sky city, loom to the north and smaller peaks like Mount Elden, Mars Hill and Kendrick Peak beckon to hikers and runners, as well.  It is also a railroad town, as anyone seeking a good night’s sleep in any of the motels along Old U.S. 66 can attest.  Drifters and the troubled find their way here, en route to or from California or  Las Vegas, and many stay.  Robert Smith, who killed Officer Stewart before turning the gun on himself, was one of those troubled souls.  He was 28.

While this transpired, on a sunny Saturday-after-Christmas, I was in a faith-based conference in Phoenix, learning of systemic alternatives to greed, rapacity and vengeance.  It occurred to those of us who heard of this incident, over dinner, that there is, when people feel utterly trapped, and at the mercy of wolves, so to speak-they revert to savagery, however tempered by cunning that it may be.

We often worry about high-profile catastrophe: Mass murders, such as the Twin Towers, Newtown or Peshawar; missing and ill-fated airplanes, of which there have been three this year; or almost incomprehensible global phenomena, such as the Mega-Tsunami of ten years ago, Friday.  The more common tragedy is, collectively, like death by a thousand cuts.  Four police officers have been killed, in the line of duty, over the past two months. Some blame an obscure street gang, which has “declared war” on police. To date, that group has not carried out any of its threats.  The deaths which have occurred, are all random results of a torn social fabric.  The mentally ill, from unrestrained sociopaths to schiziphrenics, who are shunted aside by the hipsters and the Men of Purpose, have, in each case, been shown to be the perpetrators.

While there is no conspiracy, there is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Registration of firearms, as appealing  and, in many cases, necessary as it is, resolves only a small part of the problem.  It has not been that many years since I had to explain to my then-teenaged son how it was that a schizoid man could behead his own flesh and blood, and toss the head out of his moving truck, onto a highway full of horrified commuters.  No human being can long be made to feel that he or she is irrelevant to the very people in whom trust has been placed.  The rest of us will soon have to bear the full cost, and dollars are a very small part of that cost- as everyone who has tried to make mental health care all about the money has learned, to their chagrin.

In a couple of days, most of us will assess this departed year and gaze ahead at the broad horizon of anno novo. The sunrise and sunset will appear the same.  Perhaps somewhere, an overloaded ferry, in a far-off place, will be the first reported disaster.  The jails will be full of those who over-celebrated.  In New York City, a young widow will wake up alone, and two fatherless boys will look at the empty dining-room chair, where their father used to sit.  In the Anthem neighbourhood of Phoenix, a veteran State Police officer will look out the window, and tears will stream down his face- as he wonders “Why MY son?”. even as he knows the answer, full-well.  In the Old Town section of Flagstaff, a young woman will also wake up, without the man she thought she could trust, and hopefully not blame herself.

Life is beautiful, under the shadow of the Peaks, and it is also grim.

The Heat, the Light and the First Pawtuckets

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I posted this last summer, while visiting my hometown.  This is the first of two more reposts from my cross-country visits of that time.

After resting up, following my eye exam this morning(Sept. 1, 2011), I decided to walk down to an old childhood favourite:  The Saugus Ironworks.

Many high school students learn in their US History classes that this simple colonial foundry was the birthplace of the American iron and steel industry.  There is a bit more to the story than that.  This place was inhabited by the Pawtucket people (aka Penacook), for several thousand years. The location itself was called Pawtucket.  The hills just to the northwest of the Saugus River were called Tontoquon.  These were the focus of settled activity by the Pawtucket Nation.

  When the Puritans, led by John Winthrop, settled Boston in 1621, they were looking for a place in which to produce iron locally.  At first, they tried the hamlet of Braintree, 16 miles south of Boston, but found it meager as a foundry venue.  An engineer named John Leader came from England, explored the lands of the Pawtuckets, and found a spot on the Saugus River.  He named the place Hammersmith, and began the iron-making operation.  Scottish indentured servants were brought in to do the non-farming labour that was loathed by the Puritans.  The Scots were a rowdy, but hard-working bunch and made a good effort at producing quality iron.  Leader and his Board of Directors were not sound businessmen, however, and the business failed after less than 20 years.

In the 1940’s and 50’s, archaeologists and housing developers found remnants of the colonial-era operation.  Sixty years later, the ironworks is restored, so that we may give the early efforts at self-reliance the attention they deserve.

Here are some close-ups of the forge, the rolling  and slitting mill, the blacksmith shop and the river that helped it all happen.

 

  The Scottish iron workers, and their descendants, carried the ironworking tradition to other parts of the country.  One such new ironworking locale became Pawtucket, RI, in honor of the ironworkers’ first hosts.  Saugus, the name that the Pawtuckets gave to the river, eventually became the name of the town in which the Ironworks is preserved.

I learned a lot of this, and more, at the Saugus Public Library, when I visited it on an average of 3 days a week from the time I was ten until I graduated high school.

These are two of my passions:  Exploring and learning.