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Recalling ice harvesting on Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton

  • Abagail and Amelia Achmad of Easthampton, 8, slide down a huge snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Abagail and Amelia Achmad of Easthampton, 8, slide down a huge snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Elaine Wood, left, and Liz Provo of Easthampton look at old ice harvesting tools at the Historical Ice Harvest next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Elaine Wood, left, and Liz Provo of Easthampton look at old ice harvesting tools at the Historical Ice Harvest next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zoe Sise of Easthampton, 7, watches as Austin Winnie of Easthampton, 4, slides down a snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Zoe Sise of Easthampton, 7, watches as Austin Winnie of Easthampton, 4, slides down a snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Abagail and Amelia Achmad of Easthampton, 8, slide down a huge snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Elaine Wood, left, and Liz Provo of Easthampton look at old ice harvesting tools at the Historical Ice Harvest next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Zoe Sise of Easthampton, 7, watches as Austin Winnie of Easthampton, 4, slides down a snow pile at the Historical Ice Harvest held next to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton on Saturday, February 16, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Through most of the 19th century and roughly until the Great Depression, Easthampton’s Nashawannuck Pond had a value beyond powering the surrounding mills and providing a bit of scenery for the locals: big blocks of ice.

With Mount Tom and the pond in the background, dozens of people gathered in the Easthampton Municipal Building parking lot Saturday eager to learn about this lesser-known trade. Some shared memories of the old ice house and unauthorized skating inside it, while others were just curious about the history of the ice-harvesting trade.

“It was all falling apart when I was a kid,” said Easthampton native Dave Poudriere of the remains of Wagner’s ice house built on piers in the pond. “It’s pretty interesting. I didn’t know it had an elevator.”

The steam-powered elevator was one of the many interesting facts about the history of area ice harvesting offered up by local historians Dennis Picard and Rick Martin. The presentation, originally planned to include ice-cutting demonstrations on the pond itself, had to take place on the asphalt instead, because the weight of the snow would cause water to gush up through the hole and flood the surface.

Sponsored by the Easthampton Cultural Council and the Nashawannuck Pond steering committee, the event was the first of its kind for the pond. Organizers plan to bring it back next year, hoping that conditions will allow participants to try their hand at sawing into the ice.

While Picard was disappointed that the ice-cutting demonstration had to be nixed, he and Martin livened up their presentation with a display of antique ice tools. “All of the tools are at least 100 years old, from private collections,” Picard explained, decked out in period garb of round spectacles, woolen cap and vest, and watch chain. Before him, propped on saw horses, were ice ploughs for marking the ice, sharp-toothed saws for cutting and pointy pikes for sliding the cut blocks toward the ice house.

Eric Madsen of Easthampton approached with a long, rusted iron tool that had belonged to his grandmother. “What’s this for?” Madsen asked Picard, testing his mastery of the subject. Without hesitation, Picard said, “That’s a house bar.” He explained that one end was to break apart the blocks horizontally and the other vertically.

Judy O’Donnell, lifelong Easthampton resident with her husband, Bob, wondered how the horses pulled the ice ploughs, used to mark a grid into 22-by-22-inch blocks, each weighing about 100 pounds, across the ice without slipping. Picard produced some antique caulked shoes that fit over the horse’s hooves and gripped the ice like cleats.

A small crowd had also gathered around Easthampton native Richard Dion, who brought a handful of grainy black-and-white photos of the ice house given to him by the owner’s son.

“This one shows the conveyor at the back of the old ice house before it was torn down,” said Dion, born in 1933. “My sister and her friends used to skate in the ice house.”

He said the girls would clear off the sawdust in which the ice was packed for insulation.

Asked if they put the sawdust back when done: “No, they didn’t care. They just wanted to skate,” he said.

Many in the crowd were particularly intrigued by the ice market and the fact that it began as an export business to far-flung locales such as India, the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States — basically any place too steamy to produce its own ice.

“I had no idea how big the industry actually was and how far they exported,” said Peter Marks as his three school-age children body-slid down iceberg-like snow mounds on the edge of the parking lot. “It’s amazing.”

Picard noted that Nashawannuck Pond’s ice production was only for local homes and businesses, delivered by horse-drawn wagon.

Using ice to keep food cold liberated people from the less-palatable and limited selection of foods preserved through pickling, salting and drying methods. Many in the crowd also found interesting the laws of nature that allow the ice to remain frozen even in summer.

“The ice keeps itself,” said Picard, adding that by keeping air and moisture away, the ice can stay at 38 degrees in the ice house even while it’s 96 degrees outside.

“Packed properly, the ice can keep for four to five years.” Picard also had a bit of practical advice for his listeners about the power of ice. “In a power outage, people complain that their food spoils. Put it outside in a box — it’s cold!”

Interesting article on the Pond. My Grandfather was William Wagner the owner. I have some great pictures. I was not old enough to remember the structure. Great memories skating in the winter and swimming at the boat house. Sure would love to see a more activities on the Pond other then ice fishing.

Hey, "tiki2"... I'm making a video of the event for local Community Access TV, and I'd be interested to incorporate some of your 'period' photos. Please 'friend' me on FaceBook so that we can chat. Thnx. Jon Persson

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