New England was once the epicenter of American manufacturing, supplying the country and the world with textiles, leather goods, and other vital commodities. Although much of this industry no longer operates in the region, American's oldest glass company is still thriving on Cape Cod. At Pairpoint Glass in Sagamore, MA, skilled artisans continue to rely on traditional methods and tools to create breathtaking showpieces and decorative glass items. Visitors can view the entire production process at Pairpoint's Cape Cod factory, which offers curious guests a rare glimpse of historical arts and crafts in practice.
A Working Museum
Pairpoint Glass was founded in 1837 in Boston, MA as the Mount Washington Glass Company, making it the oldest continually-operating glass manufacturer in the United States. The current Cape Cod facility opened in 1970 and continues to make use of original tools and methods. "We still use the same traditional techniques and a lot of the original tools. Pairpoint is a working museum," explains co-owner Jeff Tulman. "The guys are using models and presses and hand tools that are from the 1830s. It ends up being a cool education for visitors on what it takes to make a piece."
Visitors can step back into the nineteenth century and watch skilled artisans at work, most of whom have decades of experience at Pairpoint. "Our senior guys have been here between twenty-five and forty years each," Tulman explains. "Some of them are second-generation Pairpoint artisans. They have decades of specific experience with this kind of tooling and with the Pairpoint style."
Pairpoint has a long list of famous customers. "Pairpoint made all of the glass for Tiffany and Co., some U.S. presidents, and even Queen Victoria and the pope," Tulman says. "We have pieces in thirty-two U.S. museums, including the Met. Over its 180 years, Pairpoint has been considered the highest-end glass manufacturer. The history and pedigree of the company are unsurpassed."
As Tulman explains, the methods used to produce those famous pieces have not changed much in almost two centuries, and this tangible connection to famous historical figures and events is a huge draw for visitors. "Paipoint was always known for having original color recipes, and we still use these 180-year-old recipes to this day," he says. "People get really excited to hear about who our clients are--they're amazed to learn that we've made stuff for popes and queens and presidents."
Artisans at Work
Pairpoint offers visitors the chance to view their artisans at work at no charge, making this an ideal stop for travelers of any budget. "Everything that Pairpoint produces is made on-site at our facility on the Cape," Tulman says. "Our visitors are able to see not just glass demonstrations, but actual glass production." Visitors may be surprised by the appearance of the facility, which, as Tulman points out, "was built to be practical for glassmaking."
The pieces that visitors can see in production vary by the day, making each visit a unique experience. “People can see anything from chandeliers for casinos and trophies for the Boston Marathon to the decorative pieces geared toward visitors and homeowners. You can actually see the process of making the products that are being sold.”
A Fun Cultural Stop
Pairpoint’s convenient location makes it easy to add to any Cape Cod travel itinerary. Located just over the bridge, visitors can make a quick stop before heading out further onto the Cape or can spend some time exploring the Canal area. “You can leave through the back of the building and be right on Cape Cod Canal, where you can watch the boats and birds and other things,” Tulman explains. “It’s great because you can get some exposure to the natural environment of Cape Cod.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is also a popular destination during inclement weather. Given the abundance of beach and boating on the Cape, visitors sometimes scramble to find fun ways to fill time during wet weather. But Pairpoint offers a great indoor alternative for travelers. “We get inundated when it rains,” Tulman says. “We’re a fun cultural stop.”