Weston, Massachusetts

In Weston, Massachusetts, where Stony Brook meets the Charles River, stands Norumbega Tower. It was built by the inventor of baking powder to honor Vikings.

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About This Location

In Weston, Massachusetts, where Stony Brook meets the Charles River, stands a testament to historical curiosity and the allure of legends. This stone structure is covered in the enigma of a past that intertwines fact with folklore. This now-abandoned tower was dedicated to the Vikings and it was commissioned by none other than the creator of modern baking powder. Yup, the man who founded Rumford Chemical Works is behind this structure.

This tower has stood here in Weston since 1889 and the story behind it is incredible. It was commissioned by a man named Eben Norton Horsford who I personally had never heard of. But, after a quick search on Google, I found him to be an amazing character. 

Horsford was born in Moscow, New York and he grew up to become a significant American scientist and inventor. He was well-known for being a professor in the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard from 1847 to 1863. On January 30, 1847, Horsford was elected unanimously by the Harvard Corporation to become the Rumford Chair of Physics. In 1849, he was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society. Throughout the years he wrote many scientific papers and reports. 

Outside of education, he had a major impact on the world as an inventor. During the Civil War, the U.S. Army approached Eben to create a compressed meal for soldiers. He created a beef and grit pouch that the U.S. Army produced over half a million of. Horsford also went on to affect the lives of billions of people with his creations of modern baking powder and condensed milk.

Originally, baking powder contained baking soda and cream of tartar. Horsford replaced the cream of tartar with the more reliable and cheaper calcium bisphosphate. In 1854, Horsford, with partner George Wilson, formed Rumford Chemical Works and began producing this new baking powder. They named the company after the title of Horsford's position at Harvard. The company still exists today and remains a major producer of baking powder. Horsford also created condensed milk for use on the Arctic expeditions of explorer Elisha Kane. Horsford went on to sell the proprietary process for condensing milk to the Borden Company. All told, Eben received over 30 patents during his lifetime and amassed a very large fortune through his inventions. 

So why did Horsford build this Viking tower?

Well, later in his life, Horsford developed a love for Vikings and a passion for their history. He became convinced that Leif Erikson and a group of Norsemen had founded a fortified city in Watertown, Massachusetts, during the 11th century. He presented this theory in 1887 at Faneuil Hall in Boston, during a speech titled “Discovery of America by Northmen.” During this speech, he unveiled a statue of Erikson he commissioned to be erected in the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Horsford’s theory was based on his interpretation of early North American coastal maps and his belief that several Massachusetts place names had Norse origins. He published “The Discovery of the Ancient City of Norumbega” in 1889, and two years later, “The Defences of Norumbega,” drawing from his archaeological research in Watertown. 

Now, this is what led to the tower. 

Built in 1889 this 38-foot tall tower is more than just stone and mortar. It symbolizes Horsford's sincere belief in a Norse heritage deep-rooted in the soil of New England. That said, third parties did studies but no true archaeological evidence was found. Nevertheless, Horsford's conviction that this spot was part of the legendary Norse city of Norumbega is etched into every stone of this tower.

Norumbega's legend extended beyond this tower, influencing the naming of the former Norumbega Park, a nearby amusement park that mirrored the mystique of this supposed Norse settlement. The park, the statue, and the tower, together, changed some American's perceptions of the Norse impact on North America.

Each step inside the tower, with its spiral staircase winding upwards, and each glance at the inscription on its exterior, transports us back to Horsford’s era - an era where the romance of ancient sagas and new world discoveries captivated the imagination of many. 

Horsford was not just an academic but a dreamer who invested some of his fortune in immortalizing his beliefs. His contributions to Wellesley College, including Norumbega Hall, and his relentless pursuit of a Viking legacy in New England, paint the picture of a man deeply enamored with the possibility of a world where myth and history converge. In 1892 Horsford was even knighted by the king of Denmark for his archaeological research on the Norse people. He past away a year later in 1893.

Today, the Norumbega Tower and the surrounding area invite visitors not just to ponder the mysteries of the past but also to appreciate the serene beauty of Stony Brook and the Charles River. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a lover of myths, or simply in search of a peaceful retreat, this tower serves as a perfect getaway. Although the structure has been abandoned for decades and is currently falling into disrepair, it is still magical to walk around and within it. From the top of the tower, visitors can enjoy sweeping views of the waterways and surrounding land. 

Location Features

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Norumbega Road, Weston, Massachusetts

GPS Coordinates:
42.353417, -71.262028
Directions to location:
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Parking Notes:
The tower is located right off Norumbega Road in Weston, Massachusetts. While the tower can be seen right from the road, there is no parking allowed on the road. It is best to park along Charles River Road in Watertown about a quarter-mile away. Here, visitors can enjoy free roadside parking.


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