The Heat, the Light and the First Pawtuckets


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.

HIGHLIGHT: Walking along the river of my youth.