This week we took a break from whale watching and jumping out of airplanes and dancing through the streets to pay a visit to Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, just a few miles north of Boston. It was like stumbling upon an archaeological site, an ancient civilization suddenly abandoned.

Well, it isn’t exactly ancient, but it is really old. The Saugus Iron Works facility operated from 1646 to 1670, it manufactured iron for horseshoes, nails, cookware and other items needed by the colonists. This iron was loaded onto ships in the waterway that stood out front (it’s now trickled down to little more than a pitiful birdbath) that connected with the ocean a few miles away. Many of the laborers were imported from England, and they tended to be rowdy misfits who frequently got thrown into jail for such offenses as drinking, gambling, swearing, adultery, missing church and wearing fancy clothes.

Today, the iron works facility is a national site with park rangers, gift shop and all. But it mostly looks (with some restoration, of course) as it did three and a half centuries ago, with wooden wheelbarrows for carrying coal, huge iron tools, huge bellows to pump the furnaces, and 5 water wheels to crank the bellows. You can almost hear the echoes of those workers swearing and talking about their fancy clothes.