Saugus Ironworks House // 1687

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.

Rear of Ironworks House

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.

Boardman House // 1692

The 2nd oldest house in Saugus, the Boardman House, was built in 1692, just 72 years after the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. The Boardman House is an example of early New England architecture that exhibited exposed and decorated structural carpentry, and that evolved from English Post-medieval architecture transferred to New England by the early settlers. Built in 1692, the home is considered a hall and parlor plan, consisting of two rooms at each story separated by a stair hall at the front and by a massive central chimney at the rear. Sometime between 1692 and 1696, the rear lean-to kitchen was added to the house, creating the Saltbox roof.

Built by William Boardman, a carpenter, the home remained in the family until 1911, when it was purchased by a developer. The original 300-acre farmland was sub-divided and sold through the centuries after William’s death in 1696 at the age of 38. In 1913, the local community, concerned that these changes spelled certain destruction for the old house, appealed to William Sumner Appleton, founder and corresponding secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, and the purchase of the house was finally negotiated in 1914. Over the next year, Appleton had the foresight to purchase eight additional small lots surrounding the house, allowing it to stand in a comparatively open space and setting it apart from the close-set houses that eventually sprang up in the immediate neighborhood. The Boardman House is now one of a few 17th century house museums in the region.

Kowloon Restaurant // 1950

If you are from New England, it is hard to not know about Kowloon, the iconic roadside landmark on Rt. 1 in Saugus, MA, just north of Boston. A four-mile stretch of Route 1 has arguably the largest collection of roadside architecture and mid-century neon signs in the New England region. The street was referred to as the “Gold Coast” by some for the taxable income to the town of Saugus, and despised by others for the garish proliferation of monumental signs and flashing lights resembling the Vegas. Iconic signs and buildings from the 68-foot tall Hilltop Cactus sign (which has been restored as part of a new development) to the former Ferns Motel, a now gone remnant of the automobile age, replaced by a hotel, to the Leaning Tower of Pizza, a pizza shop with a replica of the iconic leaning tower in Italy, litter the streetscape. A sign ordinance was passed by the town in 1977 limiting the size and brightness of signs, but “grandfathered” the existing signs. Over the years many roadside signs and buildings have made way for new developments, but one institution has actually grown, Kowloon Restaurant.

Originally established in 1950 as The Mandarin House, and able to accommodate just 40-50 customers, the Wong Family started what would become a local institution. In 1958, the Mandarin House was bought by Madeline and Bill Wong, the second generation of the family to own the business who changed the name to Kowloon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, and it was a huge success. The restaurant offered a club-like atmosphere in some rooms with waterfalls and volcanoes and other rooms more subdued for families. The restaurant expanded with seating from 50 to 1200! The most stunning part of the complex of additions has to be the addition from 1970, which resembles a Polynesian Longhouse with a 15-foot tiki above the entrance.

Armitage Estate // c.1865

This large Second Empire house was built by 1865 for John Armitage and his wife Nancy. Not long before they built this large estate, which was once on over five acres of land, John became a partner in Edward Pranker & Co. (also known as the Iroquois Mills) in Saugus. In 1838, Edward Pranker, an English-born textile manufacturer from Salem, New Hampshire purchased a vacant mill property on bond and established a flannel and bed sheet manufacturing business. He renovated the mill and installed new machinery. Although the conditions of the wool business in general were extremely poor during the mill’s first years of operation, the business was a success. In 1840, he was able to pay off the bond on the property. By 1846, Pranker’s business had grown so much that he had to build a second mill. Pranker died in 1865 and Armitage left the company soon after, beginning his career in politics. In 1870, he served as a district representative for some Essex County towns. After Pranker and Nancy’s death, the house was willed to their two youngest (and unwed) daughters Carrie (a dressmaker) and Laura (a teacher).

This house is an excellent example of the Second Empire/Italianate architecture style. For one, it has a Mansard roof. Additionally, it has a bracketed cornice which is interrupted by a central gable. Ornate window and door trim paired with a color scheme to accentuate the details, make this home stand out, even though its obscured by shrubs.

Saugus Town Hall // 1875

The Saugus Town Hall was built in 1875 and is one of the most visually striking buildings on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The original Town Hall for Saugus (after the separation of church and state required a separate buildings for town matters and religious gatherings) was built in 1837 in the Greek Revival style. The first town hall was built to serve a community of just 750 residents, which by the last quarter of the 19th century had grown to more than 2,000. The current town hall was built in 1875 to serve “the needs of a progressive and growing municipality”. As planning for the town hall was underway, it was established that the town’s high school was becoming inadequate to a growing population. It was therefore proposed that the new town hall would also serve as a “High School House”. It was also deemed appropriate to locate the public library in the building as well. Even the police department and jail were located in the basement, making the Saugus Town Hall a one-stop shop for governmental functions.

The architectural firm of Lord and Fuller designed the grand building, who that same year designed the Topsfield Town Hall and the next year, designed the iconic Abbott Hall in Marblehead. The building features delicate stick style detailing and is capped with a central clock tower with a tent roof cupola, all painted historically appropriate paint colors! By the 1990s the town hall had fallen into disrepair and the town proposed tearing it down. However, the Saugus Historical Commission pushed to save and restore the building. The structure reopened in 1998 with a final cost of $3.5 million dollars, with nearly half supported by preservation grants and fundraising, effectively saving the town money compared to the demolishing and construction of a new town hall. Preservation wins!