Thursday, June 24, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 53: Saugus, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 53: Saugus, Mass.
May 20, 2010

            Though the North Shore is primarily known for its tremendous stretches of scenic, rocky, coastline, there are a few places away from the coast that are just as beautiful and need to be taken in.  Saugus is just one such place. 
            Located just to the west of Lynn, Saugus is rich with history at every turn.  Saugus, the Nipmuck Indian name for the area thought to mean ‘great,’ originally included the future towns of Swampscott, Lynn, Nahant, Lynnfield, Reading, and Wakefield.  The present-day Saugus was incorporated as a town in 1815 with agriculture as its main industry.  However, the main historic site in Saugus shows that this town was built on a much different industry.
            The Saugus Iron Works(left) was the first iron works in America, in operation from 1646-1668 it is now an historic site and museum.  This place is filled with tremendous views; the Saugus River flows behind the site with the main building set on a hill overlooking the river.  I found it quite ironic that the entirety of the Iron Works site looked like something from the Olde English countryside, the irony being that those who originally built and worked here were English colonists.  On this sunny day it was easy to take my time and get lost in each of the buildings which are filled with replicas of the original tools used.
            The Iron Works House, the large black building seen as you enter through the gates, is the only piece of architecture from the 17th century on the grounds.  That building was erected around 1680, or about ten years after the Iron Works ceased operations.  The rest of the structures are recreations based on the findings of archaeologist Roland Robbins during his dig on the site from 1948 to 1953.  There is so much to explore here but even sitting on a bench taking in the scenery is a great way to spend some time.
            When entering Saugus I made it a point to seek out their town hall as I do with most of the places I visit.  As I have said, the buildings themselves are usually beautiful old structures and the surrounding grounds typically are well groomed and dotted with monuments or statues.  What I found particularly fascinating about Saugus’ Town Hall(right) even more than the structure itself was the colors.  Rather than the typical neutral colors like white or grey, the Saugus Town Hall is a combination of a dull-yellow and brown.  This town hall, the second one built in the town in 1875, despite its elegant beauty and rich colors was a sore spot that nearly tore the town apart. 
            When the Town Hall was constructed in 1875 it put Saugus in a $50,000 debt.  This was the main catalyst for the neighborhood of East Saugus to attempt to become separated from Saugus and annexed to the city of Lynn.  Unfortunately for the prospective people of East Saugus they were unable to get a bill in both the House and the Senate.  It was not a complete failure though as $5,000 was appropriated for new water pipes to be laid in East Saugus.
            After leaving the Town Hall area I headed for the Boardman House(right) on Howard Street.  This house is very unique, not just for the central chimney which sticks up through the middle of the roof.  Built in 1692 for joiner, a type of carpenter who does not use nails, William Boardman, the house has been untouched in design since the early 1700’s.  The only change occurred early in the house’s existence when a lean-to was added to the back of the house around 1696.  This change gives the house the look of a classic New England ‘salt box,’ even though theoretically it is not.  The house has five fireplaces, an outhouse in the backyard, and is owned by Historic New England.  The Boardman House can be toured from June through mid-October.
            The final place I visited was the beautiful Breakheart Reservation, a 640-acre forest located in Saugus and neighboring Wakefield.  There is a bike trail which leads to a freshwater beach at Pearce Lake only a mile from the lot where I parked.  The dirt trails lead to views of the Saugus River(left) as well as views of Boston and nearby areas from any of the seven high rocky hills.  I did not get to any of the huge rocky hills but I did have an experience on a smaller rock.
            While walking along the Saugus River I noticed a rock face stretching over forty feet up that ended up above the tree line.  There were no paths to get up to the clearing so I decided to scale the hill through the trees, rocks, and brush.  When I finally reached the top I was rewarded with an unbelievable view.  Before me was downtown Saugus while rolling green hills went on as far as I could see.  However, that was nothing compared to what was waiting behind me.
            After shooting a few shots of the landscape in front of me I turned around and was face to face with a young buck no more than ten yards away(right).  I stayed still and got some shots and a video of him, but then he began wagging his white tail and gave a defiant snort which made me wonder if mating season was still ongoing.  After a few minutes of waiting to see what his move was I decided to play it safe and I retreated down the rocky hill.  That experience in and of itself made the trip worthwhile, but obviously not everyone will get to see a deer as closely as I did.  Breakheart Reservation will definitely fill your soul with the sights, sounds, and scents of untouched nature, deer or no deer.
            The town of Saugus holds a different scope of sights than the typical North Shore town.  I suppose that is because it is not technically on the North Shore.  The Saugus Iron Works and Breakheart Reservation are two spots that definitely need to be visited as they are the definition of the historical and natural beauty that I strive to find in my trips.  Saugus has them both.  Have fun and happy traveling!

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!
DirectionsSaugus Iron Works:  From Rt. 1 North take Main Street Saugus exit.  Follow National Park signs east through Saugus Center to the Iron Works.  Along the way you will pass the Town Hall.
            Breakheart Reservation:  From Rt. 1 North take Lynn Fells Parkway exit, follow for a short way, turn right onto Forest Street, entrance to the park is right after Kasabuski Rink.

            Town of Saugus - Official Site
            Saugus Iron Works
            Historic New England - Boardman House   

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Beautiful pictures. I love your concept, and will become a follower. If you ever find yourself in Ontario and would like some hints on beautiful places, let me know.