, Newburyport, MA


February 25, 2013

The iceman cometh

I grew up in Joppa, on the southern part of Prospect Street close to where it intersects with Bromfield Street. Just a short walking distance were two ice companies: Frost Ice Company, up from the corner of Bromfield and Chestnut Street, and Quills Ice Company was just down Bromfield Street a short way.

Quills ice houses were in Newbury. Heading down High Road just past Tendercrop’s Farm is Hay Street. Not far down the road is a pond. On the back part of the pond, just off the road a bit, was the ice house. Today there is no evidence of the ice house, but the pond is still used for ice skating as it was used when I was a kid.

Frost’s ice house was out on Graf Road. As I remember as a kid, there was brook that ran through the field. Sometimes during the fall, they would damn the brook creating quite the pond in the field. People in those days would go there to skate.

Back in the ’40s our winters were dependably true winters. About mid-winter both ponds would freeze; when the ice got to be about a foot thick, they would harvest it. The work was all done by hand, needing a lot of hands to perform the work. It would be a job that lasted a few days at best. My last two years of high school, I got hired. My older brother Lionel took me under his wing and we worked the ice together.

The ice would be cut by hand using a long saw blade that had a handle. The handle was held by a worker who would saw along a straight line. There were a few who did this and they were experienced at it. They would follow the lines and cut out large square sections. Starting from the shed, they would work their way to the back of the pond.

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