TwHP Lessons

Saugus Iron Works:
Life and Work at an Early American Industrial Site

[Cover photo] Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site.
(Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site)


he landscape had changed. Over time, parts of the river had silted in; marsh grasses, purple loosestrife, and other vegetation tumbled over the watercourse where iron-laden vessels once sailed. But a slag pile remained, and the Saugus River continued its flow along a prescribed course. Written records suggested that some 300 years past, this place served as the location of a prosperous iron industry. In 1948 archeologists were given the opportunity to survey and excavate the site and concluded that the written records were correct. Now overgrown and urbanized, from 1646 until 1668, this was the site of the Saugus Iron Works. That discovery led to a careful, though partly conjectural, reconstruction of the first successful integrated ironmaking plant in colonial America.

The early Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony undeniably needed an ironmaking factory. For those colonists, the first order of business was to build houses and plant crops. Essential to those tasks were iron tools and utensils: axes, saws, hoes, nails, pots, and kettles. Most colonists brought some needed tools and utensils with them. As the population grew, however, so did the need for more iron products. For more than 20 years this need was met by the Saugus Iron Works.

Ironmasters recruited skilled and unskilled workers from the ironmaking regions in England. These men were well acquainted with the white-heat of the blast furnace, the clanging noise of the great hammer, the hard work, and the need for constant alertness in this dangerous workplace. They knew how to endure the grueling motions that tore at their muscles, the suffocating smell of the molten metal, and the deafening atmosphere. The reconstruction of the Saugus Iron Works helps us to imagine the daily life of these early European settlers.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Saugus, Massachusetts, and
 and surrounding region

 2. The South part of New England, 1634

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. An Ironworks in New England
 2. An Ironworks Community

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Map of Saugus, Lynn, and Nahant
 2. Materials and techniques for making iron
 3. Excavation at the Saugus site
 4. Artifact found at Saugus
 5. Reconstructed ironworks buildings
 6. Artist's conception of Saugus Ironworks

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Archeology
 2. Researching Industries in the
 Local Community

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Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

This lesson is based on Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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