Recreation of 19th Century Ice Harvest

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On Saturday, Feb. 2, the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation (NCCHP) will re-create a small scale ice cutting on the pond at 42 Water Street, off of Route 189, in Granville, Mass. The event is co-sponsored by the Suffield Historical Society, the Suffield Land Conservancy and the Granville Cultural Council.

Dennis Picard, former director of Storrowtown Village Museum, will organize the harvest. Picard owns a complete collection of antique ice cutting tools. During his presentation Picard demonstrates the finer points of ice cutting and explains how to use the specialized tools. Visitors will also have an opportunity to join Picard on the ice to use an ice-saw or pike pole and learn first-hand about a harvest that provided an extra cash crop for local farmers.

The program will run between 12 and 3 p.m. Visitors may participate anytime between those hours. A video on ice harvesting in New England will be shown continuously in the NCCHP Museum. The museum will be open for tours that focus on the skills and art of drum making. The group hopes to bring people together to rekindle the community spirit of the farm communities and industrial villages that were common in most of New England. The Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation invites everyone with an interest in “living history” to visit the museum.

There is no charge for the event but donations will be gratefully accepted. For last minute information on ice conditions and status of the harvest visit the museum or call 413-357-6321 on Feb. 1.

Additional historical information

This area of New England has a long history of ice harvesting and produced a great deal of natural ice during the early 20th Century. Commercial ice harvesting in Southwick and Suffield began right after the Civil War ended. Prior to that time the Hudson River was the major source of ice. For several years, the polluted Hudson produced poor harvests and the ice companies looked around for a new source. The Congamond Lakes, favored with good rail transportation on the nearby New Haven-Northampton railroad line, offered a unique business opportunity. The spring-fed Congamond Lakes produced a pure, high quality ice that found a ready market. It wasn’t long before the ice harvesters were cutting big blocks and loading them into boxcars for shipment to New York. The Congamond operation became the largest ice harvesting operation in New England from 1900 to 1925.

In addition to the large commercial ice operations, many local farmers harvested ice from their ponds for personal use or as a source of extra income.