In any town, firefighters are typically experts on shortcuts, the government, and the social scene. That knowledge is amplified when a firefighter works in his hometown, so consider Bill Cross an expert on Saugus.
Cross moved to Saugus as a first-grader in 1972. He’s spent the past 23 years with the Fire Department, and the 49-year-old has never thought about leaving. “When you look at other cities and towns, there’s more room for advancement,’’ Cross said, “but when you work in the town you grew up in, you have a vested interest there. You know the people, [and] it’s more like caring for your family.’’
That sort of dedication is common in Saugus, a community north of Boston that serves as a gateway to the North Shore. Saugus can be difficult to categorize, but these days it’s most commonly regarded as a middle-class suburb. The town is known for, among other things, its stretch of Route 1, which features every chain retailer and restaurant imaginable, as well as some wacky landmarks.
Despite the community’s reputation as a retail haven, Cross points out that Saugus is just as close-knit as any small town. “It’s a community with generations of people,’’ he said. “They welcome you with open arms, and that’s what keeps us here. My wife wants to downsize and go somewhere, and I’m like: ‘Where do you want to go?’ I know everyone here and I like it.’ ’’
Much of the Fire Department reflects that sentiment. Cross said there are two other firefighters from his high school graduating class in his department and another six that were in different grades during his time at Saugus High.
Cross said he has noticed changes in the community — there are fewer young kids out and about, and the area has lost landmarks — but the town clings to its roots.
“For people in town, their grandparents live here, and their parents [do, too], and their kids buy homes,’’ the father of three said. “The people around this town make it the way it is.’’
The year that an ironworks along the Saugus River was established on what is now the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. This, “the first sustained, integrated ironworks in British Colonial America,” ceased operation in 1670. This location, known as the birthplace of the American iron and steel industry, is now open to the public and run by the National Park Service. Visitors can see water wheels, a blacksmith shop, a half-mile nature trail, and a 17th-century home.
The number of seats at Kowloon, a massive restaurant and Route 1 landmark. In addition to an extensive menu of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food, Kowloon hosts stand-up comedy most weekends.
The opening time for Kane’s Donuts, a Saugus institution since 1955. Kane’s also has a Boston location (but the hours are different).
The year that Saugus made an inspirational run in the Little League World Series, finishing fourth.
Saugus’s large Italian population helps make it a great destination for Italian dining. Polcari’s, La Vita Mia, and Prince Pizzeria are some of the standouts.
Loss of landmarks
In recent years, Saugus has lost some of its most famous attractions. Hilltop Steak House, which was featured on the Travel Channel as one of America’s premier steak destinations, closed in 2013, but its iconic cactus-shaped sign remains on Route 1. In 2016, Route One Miniature Golf & Batting Cages closed down as well, but its 12-foot-tall orange Tyrannosaurus rex, which has greeted commuters for more than 50 years, will remain as the site transforms into a new development.