Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

Audio Availability: loading...

Total Audio Length: loading...

OVERVIEW: About this Audio-Described Brochure

Welcome to the audio-described version of Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site’s official print brochure. Through text and audio descriptions of photos, illustrations, and maps, this version interprets the two-sided color brochure that Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site visitors receive. The brochure explores the history of the park, some of its highlights, and information for planning your visit. This audio version lasts about 30 minutes, which we have divided into 22 sections, as a way to improve the listening experience. Sections 1-13 cover the front of the brochure and include information about the life of iron workers and the things visitors can enjoy at Saugus Iron Works. Sections 14-22 cover the back of the brochure and details the process of making iron.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

Saugus Iron Works, located in Massachusetts, is part of the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. This 9-acre park is situated about 10 miles northeast of Downtown Boston. Saugus Iron Works was designated as a national park in 1968. Each year, thousands of visitors come to enjoy the unique experiences only Saugus can offer. We invite you to explore the park's natural beauty and rich history. To find out more about what resources might be available or to contact the park directly, listen to the "Accessibility" and "More Information" sections at the end of this audio-described brochure.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Front Side of Brochure

The front of the brochure includes photographs of artifacts and a map of the Boston area. Through images and texts, it gives information about the construction of the first plant for the production of cast and wrought iron. Detailing the iron works house today, it offers direction on how to get there and information about the things that are found at Saugus for visitors’ enjoyment.

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Reconstructions of Saugus Iron Works


A view of three buildings sitting in a line atop a small hill, nestled against the edge of a forest. The building nearest to the viewer is partially obscured, consisting of a rough cobblestone wall that transitions into the weathered wooden cladding, forming an overhang over a narrow pathway.

The other two structures in the distance are almost identical. Clad in dark timber, with steep-angled roofs and square and white chimneys, the facades have large double doors that swing outward. The center building has a large ramp that extends from the double doors to the path that winds by it.

This central building faces a ravine, in which lies a stepped wooden structure.


Reconstructions of the blast furnace, forge, and the rolling and slitting mill – over the original 1640s foundations – illustrate the technology that transformed ore into iron products.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: The People of Hammersmith


An aerial viewpoint sketch, in black and white, of a complex of buildings. Three large buildings arranged linearly occupy the majority of the top half of the image, with two smaller buildings toward the bottom.

The buildings are set into the side of a rolling hill. They are boxy and angular, with steep triangular roofs. The leftmost building has a shallower slope and seems to disappear into the side of the slope, upon which it's built. Smoke billows out of the chimneys of the three larger buildings.

Several deep channels wind between the buildings, emptying into a body of water at the bottom edge of the image. At the edge of this body of water is a short wooden dock, with a small sailboat tied alongside it.

CAPTION: Artist’s rendering of the Saugus Iron Works as it was in the 1650s. The slag pile is visible in front of the furnace. To the right are the forge and the rolling and slitting mill. The blacksmith shop was then located in front of the mill near the wharf warehouse.


Here was built the first successful plant for the integrated production of cast and wrought iron in the new world. When John Winthrop, Jr., a student of metallurgy, found significant ore deposits in the Boston Area, he was offered incentives by the Massachusetts government to establish an iron works. He sailed to England in 1641 to form the Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England. After an initial effort at Braintree failed (excepting the forge), Winthrop was replaced by Richard Leader, who chose the site on the Saugus River for its water power, water transport, woodlands, and raw materials. At a level of technology equaling anything in 17th-century Europe, the Saugus works was by 1646 producing iron products for Massachusetts and England. But in the early 1650s, it was beset by financial problems from which it never recovered. The last recorded blast was in 1668. Despite its short life, the Saugus works introduced a complex and demanding technology into what was still a rough-hewn world.

The people who worked at Saugus were not Puritan settlers but artisans from England and Wales, brought to Massachusetts as indentured servants to staff the iron works. For the most part, they were young men with families, many of whom lived in company housing. They named their community Hammersmith, after a small town near London.

↑ back to top

TEXT: The Life of Ironworkers

When the furnace was in full blast, an ironworker’s job was demanding - hot, noisy, physically hard, and dangerous. The heavy machinery threatened life and limb. Splashing molten metal caused severe burns. But moisture was his worst enemy. In the words of a 17th-century commentator: “Should the least drop of water come into the Metall, it would blow up the furnace, and metall would fly about the Workmens ears.”

Due to the nature of the job and their specialized skills, the artisans fared well for indentured workers. The terms of their contracts depended on their bargaining power. The most highly sought were offered incentives, such as a shorter period of service than unskilled bonded servants and, in some cases, payment for their work. After working off their contracts, usually in seven years, they became independent workers who could negotiate their terms of employment.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Freemen

Independent workers, however, should not be confused with freemen, the class of citizens with voting privileges. Becoming a freeman was a good indicator of assimilation, but apparently only a few full-time ironworkers attained such status. It required membership in the church, which required a believable declaration of conversion. The ironworkers’ reasons for being here were financial, not religious. Since many of them did not share the religious enthusiasm of their Puritan neighbors, few of the first generation seem to have been truly assimilated.

The rarity of assimilation was also due to the natural tensions that arose between the Puritans and the ironworkers. The Puritan settlers lived by a strict social contract enforced by a theocratic government. The ironworkers played hard and sometimes fought hard when they were not working. They were called before the magistrates for such offenses as drunkenness, absence from church, “common swearing,” domestic violence, physical assault, “verbal assault,” and breaking of the sumptuary laws, whereby only the upper classes were allowed to display such finery as silver, lace, or high boots. But we should avoid oversimplifying these people or their relations. The Puritans were not as straight-laced as the stereotype would have it, nor were the ironworkers all free-spirited rowdies. In time, the workers’ children moved to other places, became freemen, and intermarried with the Puritans. Indeed, that eventual assimilation was an important part of the ironworkers’ achievement. They took the enormous risk of going to New England and creating a place in which their children could prosper.

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Flat Bar Iron


A gray bar of iron, flat and uniform on one side, with many stringy protrusions on the other. The protrusions are of varying lengths, with one much longer protrusion twisting out and around the others. The texture of the iron is rough and mottled, with a dull shine to it.

CAPTION: Flat bar iron that was partially run through the slitting rollers at the rolling and slitting mill.

↑ back to top

TEXT: The Iron Works House

DESCRIPTION: A partial image of a large three-story house. Painted entirely in a rich dark brown, with the only exception being the bright red door and white chimney (capped in brown stone), the house is structurally composed of cubes of slightly differing sizes. The roof of the house is made up of many different triangular peaks, with three facing the viewer and one larger triangular block crossing them perpendicularly. The windows of the house are dark and small and spaced very far apart. The left side of the house is obscured by trees and shadows. There is a lamp over the door.

CAPTION: The Iron Works House today.


The Iron Works House is the sole remaining 17th-century structure at the Saugus Iron Works. The records show that the first-known occupant, Samuel Appleton, Jr., bought the Saugus works in 1676 (after it shut down) and lived in the house from 1681 to 1688.

By the early 19th century, the house had been much altered from its original state and was housing mill workers. Its rescue and restoration were due to the efforts of Wallace Nutting, later known for his books on colonial houses and furniture. Nutting bought the house in 1915 and over the next year restored it to what he believed was its original appearance based on the work of architect Henry Charles Dean. Today, several rooms with authentic and reproduction furnishings are open to the public.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Iron Works Reconstruction

Wallace Nutting’s 1916 restoration of the Iron Works House inspired efforts to restore the iron works site three decades later. Local citizens formed the First Iron Works Association in 1943. With funds from the Iron and Steel Institute, archaeologist Roland Wells Robbins began digging in 1948. Over the next few years, he and his team unearthed, among other things, the remains of the blast furnace, a 500-pound hammer head, a large section of a waterwheel, and the outlines of the principal structures.

By 1951, the project known as the Saugus Iron Works Restoration was underway. It was directed by the First Iron Works Association, again with the Iron and Steel Institute funding. Workers from civil engineers to leather craftsmen relied on Robbins’ archaeological finds, colonial documents, and materials describing and illustrating 17th-century iron works in England. The restoration was completed and the site open to the public in 1954. In 1968, Saugus Iron Works was transferred to the National Park Service.

↑ back to top

IMAGES: Iron Plate and Ladle

IMAGE 1 of 2: Iron plate 

DESCRIPTION: A cast iron rod with a small iron loop at one end, and a large iron plate at the other. The plate has three circular holes in a triangular pattern that points down the rod toward the smaller iron loop. In places, rust has eaten away the connecting points between the plate and the rod, leaving jagged holes with rough edges.

CAPTION: Iron plate and ring of this deadeye (from a ship’s rigging) were found at Saugus.

IMAGE 2 of 2: Ladle


An iron cup with a flat bottom and thick walls, proportionally similar to a coffee mug. It appears to be corroded, with a very rough texture covering the top half of the mug. There is a protrusion visible on one side, sticking straight out at a 90-degree angle from the side.

CAPTION:  The ladle was used to pour molten iron into casting moulds.

↑ back to top

MAP: Boston Area


A map of the greater Boston area, with the city of Boston in the center, at the bottom. The map pinpoints the location of the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site near a tidal estuary that feeds into the Massachusetts Bay.

The map prominently displays the many lakes, ponds, rivers, and estuaries of the greater Boston area, and draws attention to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, which dominates the easternmost quarter of the map.

↑ back to top

TEXT: About Your Visit

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park system, one of more than 400 parks that are important examples of our national and cultural heritage. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Spring through Fall.  Visit our website for exact months of operation. 


Superintendent, Saugus Iron Works NHS, 244 Central St., Saugus MA 01906.




↑ back to top

TEXT: Directions

Use “244 Central Street, Saugus MA” for GPS directions. From I-95/Mass. 128 north or south take the Walnut St. exit (exit 43) in Lynnfield. Follow the brown National Park Service signs for 3.5 miles to the site. Driving north on U.S. 1, take the Main St. (Saugus) exit and follow the signs through Saugus Center. Driving south on US 1, Take the Walnut St. exit east and follow the signs for 1.5 miles to the site.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Things To do

Take a free ranger-led tour, offered daily. The museum offers a film and displays artifacts found at the Iron Works. A half-mile nature trail winds through woodland and tall-grass marsh overlooking the Saugus River. Listen to a self-guided audio tour by visiting Picnic tables are available.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Regulations and Safety

Do not climb on the waterwheels or other historic machinery. The slag and iron flakes can cause severe cuts. Be careful of poison ivy and bees; please do not pick flowers or disturb wildlife. To help us preserve this National Park site, please do not remove slag, pieces of iron or any other materials.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Back Side of Brochure

The back of the brochure contains many texts and images that – through photographs of artifacts – explains the process of producing iron.

↑ back to top

TEXT: The Transformation of Iron

This title represents most of the back side of the brochure.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Raw Materials

IMAGE 1 of 3: Bog Iron

DESCRIPTION: A brown, lumpy chunk of rock, with a coarse texture. It appears to be caked with dried mud.

CAPTION: Bog iron (limonite) was the iron ore available to the Saugus works. Dug up in marshy areas or pond bottoms, it ranged in consistency from rocky to earthy. 

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

IMAGE 2 of 3: Charcoal 

DESCRIPTION: A pile of small square pieces of wood, charred black, with jagged edges.

CAPTION: For the high temperatures needed to melt iron ore, the furnace burned charcoal rather than wood. Colliers slow-burned an earth-covered mound of wood to convert it into charcoal.

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

IMAGE 3 of 3: Gabbro

DESCRIPTION: A pile of coarse rocks, ranging in color from red to brown to gray.

CAPTION: The impurities in iron ore were removed by a calcium-rich flux, which combined with them and separated as slag. Limestone or seashells were used as fluxes, but gabbro rock served this function at Saugus. 

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

RELATED TEXT: The sequence of steps involved in making iron products with blast furnace and forge technologies was an integrated operation at the Saugus complex. Increasingly processed materials moved from furnace to finery to chafery to mill. The operation began with fillers dumping basketfuls of raw materials-iron ore, charcoal, and a “flux” into the fiery charge hole.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Blast Furnace

DESCRIPTION: A square cobblestone structure viewed from an angle. It has arched openings on its two visible faces. In one of the openings sits the bellows (labeled: C, described below): a triangular wedge made of ruffled canvas that allows it to be compressed, with black boards at the top and bottom, and black handles protruding out of the end. In the other opening, there is a thick yellow line, crossed by three perpendicular yellow lines at an even spacing (labeled: D).

Along the side of the structure, there is a stone channel with water running through it, and a wooden water wheel with six spokes positioned in the channel, so that the water turns it. The wheel connects to a metal shaft (labeled: B) that is, in turn, connected to the bellows.

Atop the structure, there is a covered hatch (labeled: A), and a wooden gangway that allows access to the hatch, supported by six wooden posts. This gangway runs perpendicular to the stone channel that feeds the waterwheel. On the three sides of the hatch that are adjacent to the gangway, there are short wooden barriers.

CAPTION:  As raw materials were fed into the charge hole, cams on the waterwheel shaft alternately compressed leather bellows, creating a steady blast to maintain the high temperature needed for smelting ore into molten iron – here hardened into "sows."

CREDIT: NPS/Chuck Carter

RELATED TEXT: The development of the blast furnace in the late 14th century introduced the principle behind modern ironmaking. Carbon from burning charcoal combined with oxygen in the ore to form carbon monoxide gas. With the removal of the oxygen, the ore was converted to iron. The blast furnace was tall enough that the iron had time to absorb carbon from the charcoal as it descended towards the hearth. This reduced its melting temperature, turning it to liquid by the time it reached the bottom. The molten iron could be cast directly into products or cast into sow bars, taken to a forge, and converted into wrought iron. The blast furnace, while “blowing,” ran around the clock for 30 to 40 weeks until maintenance was needed.

↑ back to top

IMAGES and TEXT: Water Power

Image 1 of 2: Overshot Wheel

DESCRIPTION: A diagram depicting two different wooden water wheels. On the left, an eight-spoke wheel is being fed water by a wooden bucket hanging above it. On the right, a smaller six-spoke wheel sits in a trough. Both wheels are supported by a brick structure.

CAPTION: The overshot wheel was turned by water spilling into buckets at the top. The high breastshot wheel turned in the other direction. Water flowed beneath the undershot wheel to drive its paddles. 

CREDIT:  L. Kenneth Townsend

Image 2 of 2: Map of iron works

DESCRIPTION: A simplified map of the Saugus Iron Works as seen from above. At the top of the map is a small body of water labeled: Impoundment Pond. In the middle of the map are the three primary buildings, labeled, from left to right: Blast Furnace, Forge, and Rolling and Slitting Mill. At the bottom of the map is Saugus River. The map shows four water channels that feed the three buildings, and the locations of the water wheels that they power: One in the center of the Blast Furnace, one at each corner of the Forge, and two on the right side of the Rolling and Slitting Mill, for a total of seven water wheels.

CAPTION: The potential energy of slow-moving water was increased by impounding it at a higher elevation than the waterwheel. At Saugus, the river water was dammed then released into the impoundment pond down the hill. From this pond water flowed at controlled rates down four wooden troughs called races: one for the blast furnace, two for the forge (each driving two wheels); and one for the rolling and slitting mill. Drop gates on each race regulated the speed of the wheels.

CREDIT:  L. Kenneth Townsend

RELATED TEXT: Until the first practical steam engine was developed in the late 18th century, industry was powered by muscle – human or animal, wind, or water. Waterwheels were employed in the ancient Middle East to lift water for irrigation. The principle was applied in the following centuries to milling, weaving, and a number of other technologies - including the making of iron. A limitation of water power was that such an operation had to be near fast-running water. During a drought, as happened at Saugus in 1653, the waterwheels were still. In places where water froze in the winter, everything was shut down until the spring thaw. Nevertheless, by the mid-17th century, the waterwheel had developed into the most efficient power source and was a common feature of the industrial landscape.

↑ back to top

IMAGES and TEXT: Casting

IMAGE 1 of 2: Sand level

DESCRIPTION: A coarse, gray, and bell-shaped object, with four tubes sticking up out of the top, and one diagonal protrusion coming out of the side and pointing downward. A straight crack runs from top to bottom along the side. There is a square plane of sand indicating that the entire object would be buried, with just the opening of the tubes above the sand.

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

IMAGE 2 of 2: Cast fragments

DESCRIPTION:  Approximately one quarter of the lip of an iron pot, with jagged edges and a dull gray sheen. There is a square handle toward the center of the fragment, and ornamental bands that trace its curve along what was the lip of the pot. The fragment is dully reflecting a white light.

CAPTION: Potters at Saugus made clay moulds in which some cast products were formed. The moulds were buried beneath the sand floor of the casting house, except for several hollow tubes - the sprue, through which the molten iron was poured by the moulders, and the risers, which allowed hot gasses and slag to escape. To cast simpler shapes, wooden moulds were pressed into the surface of the sand floor. They left an impression into which the iron was poured. Pots, weights, firebacks, and anvils were among Saugus’s stock of cast products.

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

RELATED TEXT: When the founder determined that the furnace was ready to tap, he first raked slag off the molten iron. He then knocked out a clay plug in the dam to let the iron flow into the trenches in the sand floor where it cooled and hardened into “sows.” The iron could also be ladled from the furnace hearth and cast directly into products in buried moulds. The slag was carted away to the huge slag pile.

↑ back to top

IMAGES and TEXT: The Forge

IMAGE 1 of 2: Forging mill

DESCRIPTION: A cutaway view of the Forge. A square wooden structure with a tall triangular roof, from which sprout three squared metal chimneys. On the left wall, two of the water wheels that power the machinery inside are visible, as is the water channel that they sit in. They are wood. They connect to the machinery inside by way of large wooden beams. On the right wall, the edge of a third wheel is visible, and hovering over it is the narrow wooden bucket that feeds it water from above.

Through the cutaway, the wooden joists and beams that support the building are visible, and between them, one is a large metal box at the base of one of the chimneys. In front of this metal structure sits a large mechanical hammer (labeled: A, later described in the caption), and a large tubular structure with a gray collar (labeled: B).

CREDIT: NPS/Chuck Carter

IMAGE 2 of 2: Forging tools

DESCRIPTION: An array of objects. From left to right: A roughly textured gray lump (Labeled: Loop); a mottled gray brick (Labeled: Half-Bloom); A gray rectangular bar with larger rectangular bars at either end (Labeled: Anchony); A uniformly narrow iron bar (Labeled: Merchant bar); Five narrow iron rods, (Labeled: Nail rods); A thin rectangular iron slab (Labeled: Rolled iron); and a rectangular iron bar (Labeled: Merchant bar). 

CAPTION: The sow bar was heated in the finery several times, decarburizing it and converting it into a pasty ball called a loop. This was beaten with a sledgehammer to knock off slag, then put under the 500-pound hammer (labeled A) for shaping into a square called a bloom. The bloom was cut in half, and the half-bloom was again heated and beaten out into the anchony. The anchony was heated in the chafery (labeled B) and placed under the hammer to have its end knobs beaten out. The result was the wrought iron merchant bar. Wrought iron’s long internal fibers made it a tougher metal than cast iron, good for horseshoes, axe heads, saw blades and other tools. Merchant bars were also basic stock for the rolling and slitting mill.

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

RELATED TEXT: Most of the iron produced at the furnace was moved over to the forge, where sow bars were converted into wrought iron. Workers heated the iron in a finery and then a chafery, made hotter with blasts from the water-driven bellows. The hammer was lifted by cams on a waterwheel shaft. Its downward force came from the weight of the 500-pound iron hammerhead and the rebound from a wooden beam it depressed at its highest point. In a precise sequence of steps, forge workers produced the wrought iron merchant bar, the major product of the Saugus works.

↑ back to top

IMAGES and TEXT: The Rolling and Slitting Mill

IMAGE 1 of 2: The Rolling and Slitting Mill

DESCRIPTION: A slightly angled cross-section of the mill, detailing its inner mechanisms. The building is square with a triangular, shingled roof. On the outside of the building's right side, there are two water wheels visible, labeled A and C, which will be described in more detail later. Wheel A is connected to an array of shafts and mechanisms (Labeled: F). A large wooden shaft connects Wheel C to a large wooden gear (Labeled: D). Gear D is meshed with an equally sized gear (Labeled: E), which in turn is connected to a shaft that runs parallel to shaft F. Sitting on the axis of shaft F is a large blade (Labeled: G). At the back of the room sits a forge, connected to a large square chimney that extends up the back wall and out through the roof. Above the water wheels sits a forked box that guides water in to the wheels from above.

CAPTION: At the mill, one waterwheel drove a shaft containing the lower rollers and slitters. The other wheel drove a cog wheel inside the mill. The cog wheel’s teeth meshed with the rungs of a lantern wheel, whose shaft turned the upper set of rollers and slitters in the opposite direction from the bottom set. A cam mounted on the first shaft drove the cutting shears.

CREDIT: NPS/Chuck Carter

IMAGE 2 of 2: Nail

DESCRIPTION: A wedge-shaped spike of iron, slightly bulbous on one end, and mottled from years of wear.

CAPTION: Iron nail

CREDIT: L. Kenneth Townsend

RELATED TEXT: In the 17th-century New England, nails were in great demand for building. For a farmer or a blacksmith, converting a merchant bar into nails was a laborious, time-consuming process since each nail rod had to be cut from flat iron by hand. The rolling and slitting mill at Saugus could provide them with bundles of rods that were easily cut into nails. About one in eight of the merchant bars produced at the forge was moved over to the mill. A bar was cut in half by the shears and heated in the furnace, then run through the rollers - only once in some cases, many times in others -drawing it out to eight to ten feet long and to various widths and thicknesses.

Some of the rolled pieces were shipped as they were; farmers could turn them into iron tires for wagon wheels and other items. The others were passed back through the slitters, reducing them to thin rods. Most were bundled for shipment to Boston and other New England settlements, although some were cut into nails by the Saugus blacksmith for local use. The blacksmith also forged merchant bars into such commercial items as hinges, hoes, shovels, kettle hooks, andirons, latches and tongs.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For more information about our services, please ask a ranger, call, or check on our website.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: More Information

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site is one of over 400 parks in the National Park system. To learn more about national parks and National Park Service programs in America’s communities, visit


244 Central St.

Saugus, MA 01906




↑ back to top

By using this site, you agree to follow our Terms, Conditions, License, Privacy Policy, and Research Protocols.