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March 6, 2013

Cape Pond's ice boasts rich history

Salting was the form of fish preservation for eons.

But small scale ice-making for the Gloucester fishing fleet was underway long before Nathaniel Webster constructed an earthen dam to form Webster’s Pond in 1848, and that marked the real start of fish ice manufacturing, according to a presentation by Scott Memhard at the Cape Ann Historical Museum last October.

His research was abetted by his wife, Martha Oaks, curator of the museum. Indeed, Memhard met Oaks while doing research into the field that he and his father Dick Memhard had bought into in 1983.

Webster and his son were visionaries, perceiving that ice would be the essential bedding for the great fishing industry growing in Gloucester

The second great ice family of Gloucester were brothers William and Francis Homans, who in 1878 and at great risk, invested more than $75,000 to create an artificial, 32-acre lake in West Gloucester, named Fernwood, that had a capacity of producing 38,000 tons of cut ice.

Other ice makers were threatened by the size and scope of Homans’ great innovation, and the lake was sabotaged immediately, and other ice houses, on Cape Pond, Day’s Pond and Niles’ Pond were burned. But Fernwood Lake and Cape Pond Ice Co., which cut from the pond in Rockport to the east of Route 127 today, where the commuter rail tracks come close to the highway, persevered.

By 1913, ice dominance had shifted from the Homans to Rockporters Freeman H. Abbott and his cousin James Abbott, who took their ice from Cape Pond. Soon thereafter, ice was also being brought down from Lake Winnpsasukee, N.H. But Cape Pond was the primary supplier.

The Fort Wharf Ice building where the Memhards’ company is today was where Clarence Birdseye had his original freezer workshop and laboratory before he moved up onto Commercial Street.

In 1943, Cape Pond Ice was acquired by John Ryan who built the Gloucester Ice & Cold Storage on the Fish Pier and the present Cape Pond Ice Co. factory on Gloucester’s Fort.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.

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