In America’s colonial infancy, all iron (for nails, weapons, tools, cookware, and horseshoes) was imported from England and costed settlers a premium for shipping. In the mid-1600s, John Winthrop, Jr., son of Governor John Winthrop, saw the untapped need for an ironworks in the newly settled American colonies. In 1643, along with a series of investors, Winthrop formed the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England, which soon after established the first ironworks in modern-day Quincy. The venture failed due to a lack of iron ore in the area and an inadequate supply of water to power the machinery, and Winthrop was replaced by Richard Leader to head up the struggling company. Leader selected a site in modern-day Saugus (then a part of Lynn), situated on 600 acres of land, bordered by the Saugus River, which was both a source of waterpower and a means of transportation.
The new iron works, which was called Hammersmith, began operations in 1646. The works consisted of; a large blast furnace, a forge, and various outbuildings for the harvesting and treatment of raw ore and treated iron. At its opening, it was one of the most technologically advanced iron works in the world. As there were so few skilled ironworkers in the colonies at the time, many were brought over from England and Scotland, the latter as prisoners of war, following the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. The ironworkers did not fit in with the local Puritan society and often ran afoul of its laws. Many ironworkers were arrested for crimes such as drunkenness, adultery, gambling, fighting, cursing, and not attending church.
The ironworks struggled as by 1650, John Gifford and William Aubrey assumed management of the Iron Works and were known to “cook the books” and had shady business dealings. A large Ironmaster’s House was constructed by 1687-88 (though other sources state it was originally built as far back as 1646) which is now the oldest remaining building in Saugus, and one of the oldest extant homes in America. Samuel Appleton, a military and government leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sued the ironworks which had been owned by his father-in-law, William Paine, in order to secure an inheritance of £1,500 left by Paine to Appleton’s three children with Hannah Paine. Samuel Appleton, Jr. would eventually take control of the Ironmaster’s House as part of the settlement.
After the iron works closed, the site fell into disuse and became hidden by underbrush. It was revived in 1915 by Wallace Nutting, an early preservationist, who restored the home to its original appearance and restored the grounds as well. The home was later sold and future uncertain, until William Sumner Appleton, Samuel Appleton Jr.’s descendant, worked to acquire the property and did. The Boston architecture firm of Perry, Shaw & Hepburn, Kehoe & Dean, which was responsible for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, was hired to reconstruct the Iron Works, rebuilding many of the outbuildings and landscape, partly from historical records and partly by conjecture, and the Ironworks reopened in 1954. In 1968, the park was acquired by the U.S. Government and is now operated by the National Park Service seasonally and is open for amazing tours of the building and grounds.
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