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Ice through the ages

frozen ponds

Skaters and ice boats share the ice surface of Long Pond at Pleasant Lake in Harwich. Photo courtesy of Harwich Historical Society

When Cape winters centered on frozen ponds

During a Cape Cod winter, chilling ocean waves curl upon frozen beaches, ocean effect snows highlight salt marshes, and smooth glass sheets encase kettle ponds. This peninsula in its wintry state becomes a whole other world, like a crystalline ice sculpture created with a salt spray chisel.

Interestingly, the Cape winters of two centuries ago were alive with outdoor activities that embraced the icy whims of nature. Like something out of Currier & Ives, the Cape’s quiet byways and snowy landscapes were ideal for sleighing, a popular excursion back in the 19th century. Cape hills were frequented by the young, and the not-so-young, for sledding and tobogganing. And local ponds and lakes were busy spots for a variety of wintertime activities, ranging from ice fishing and ice harvesting to ice skating and ice boating.

It is said there are 365 ponds and lakes across Cape Cod—one for each day of the year. Many of these are kettle ponds, created at the end of the last ice age when large blocks of ice formed depressions in the sandy soil and then melted. In winter, during those frigid Januarys and Februarys of yore, these bodies of water froze to produce six, eight, 10, or more inches of ice to the delight of those looking to fill their icehouses and to those looking to glide upon their glazed surfaces.

In the days before refrigerators, the ice box was the method of keeping food fresh during warm months. The local iceman made deliveries along his route to those customers displaying a card in their window indicating how many pounds of ice were needed. Toward that end, January and February were the months to fill the icehouse with blocks cut from the nearby pond in order to satisfy the demand come May and June.

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