WHEN ICE WAS HOT • Brutal New England winters had a silver lining — ‘crystal blocks
of Yankee coldness’ that kept the world, and its food, cool
ANN HILLIS/ THOMPSON ICE HOUSE PRESERVATION, COUR TES Y OF BOS TON GLOBE ARCHIVES
Take a walk around fresh pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and you’ll marvel that such a quiet, natural setting can be found so close to the bustle of the city. Strollers and bicycles are the vehicles of choice, and the only build- ing you’ll see is the city’s water treatment plant, quietly filtering the pond’s water
for the use of residents. Squint a little, and you can easily
imagine that you’re in another century — but not the 19th,
when bustle was a year-round phenomenon at Fresh Pond.
The reason was industry, and the industry was ice.
Hundreds of men cut, hauled, stacked, and shipped huge
“crystal blocks of Yankee coldness” to sweltering U.S. cities,
the West Indies, and far-off India, a 130-day voyage. There
was even an “Ice King,” Nahant’s Frederic Tudor, who single-
handedly invented the business of exporting New England ice.
His (and his competitors’) palaces were vast wooden and brick
icehouses that studded the Fresh Pond shoreline. One was
described in a local newspaper as “nearly as large as the store-
houses erected by Joseph, in Egypt, for grain.” At 40 feet high,
178 feet wide, and 199 feet long, and with 4-foot-thick walls,
it could hold 39,000 tons of ice. Yet all that remains of this
multimillion-dollar enterprise is a lonely historical marker on
busy nearby Concord Avenue, where few pedestrians pass.
the thompson ice
House in Maine (top
left) was still operating
in 1978. Herbert
left), whose great-grandfather started the
business in 1826, stands
beside the ice crushing
machine. He and fellow
employee John Bartlett
(right) with ice
harvesting tools: a saw
and busting bar.