Unit # 54 / 413 – Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
Before this trip, I never truly understood the unique circumstances that brought colonialists to what is now the United States.
Sure I learned about the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Anabaptists, etc. and remembered their names long enough for a multiple choice test, but I never really felt their stories the way I have on this trip.
Take, for example, the Puritans who moved to present day Massachusetts in search of a place to freely practice their religion.
While that sounds great on paper, as Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site eloquently describes in their Visitor Center video, it takes more than just a will to do something. As my own experience trying to fund this trip is acutely showing me, it also takes economics.
While I’m hoping donations sustain my trip to the end, John Winthrop Jr. thought an iron works would provide the economic security for his Christian-based colony to survive.
Thus, in 1646, he opened an iron works in the Massachusetts colony for which his father was the first colonial Governor. With water power from the Saugus River, that experiment not only led to one of the first productive iron works in America, but by 1650 it rivaled the output of European iron works.
With that success, however, also came a number of problems.
Even after importing 100 Scottish prisoners to help with the difficult labor, the iron works weren’t making enough profit for its English investors (those who had funded the iron works due to their sympathy for the Puritans' cause). Those prisoners—not held behind cells but more like indentured servants—also didn’t adhere to the strict work and lifestyle commitments the Puritans wished.
With these issues, including years of debt and litigation between the various owners, the Saugus Iron Works shut down in 1670.
However, through its closing, it released a number of skilled ironworkers to spread throughout the colonies and create their own iron works. Over the next 100 years they helped expand America’s iron industry to the point that it was producing 1/7 of the world’s iron when the Revolutionary War began.
It would later become one of the United States’ leading industries.
It’s for this reason that the National Park Service, through a replica iron works built in the 1950s, celebrates the Puritan colonialists of Massachusetts and the role they played in an economy that became far larger than their struggling years could have imagined.
Saugus Iron Works Highlight
1. Take the Ranger Tour
Mad props to the Ranger who gave my hour-long tour as rain fell on her wide-brimmed hat the whole time.
While visiting the site’s museum and walking the grounds provides a small taste of the Saugus history, taking the tour gives a more complete story and the only chance to see the iron works' water wheel spin from the power of unleashed water.
Read about the National Park Service's newest unit--number 413--Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Connecticut
-Salem Maritime National Historic Site
-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site
-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site
-Adams National Historical Park
-Cape Cod National Seashore
-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
-Roger Williams National Memorial
-Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
-Springfield Armory National Historic Site
-Weir Farm National Historic Site
The journey thus far: