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Ice through the ages

Ice through the ages, November/December 2017 Cape Cod LIFE |

Brothers Clarence and Lester Quinn ice sailing on skates, circa 1930, in Orleans, probably on Cedar Pond. Photo courtesy of

Long Pond at Pleasant Lake in Harwich was the frozen venue for a host of winter activities, from ice skating parties to ice sailing junkets to ice boat races. The races were particularly popular, attracting hundreds of spectators, some from as far away as Boston, with crafts sailing across the ice sheet at speeds of “more than one mile per minute.” One regatta in January 1881 attracted 500 people. In February of that year, the Independent reported, “The train arrived with 200 people from Hyannis and way stations to join in the sports, which were various; such as sailing, skating and dancing…the dancing was conducted by Alexander’s Band, 3 pieces, which is a voucher for a good time.” On one Saturday afternoon there were 27 ice boats on Long Pond, all vying to be the fastest.

The turn of the 20th century saw a continued interest in winter activities. In February 1901, the Independent stated that at Harwich Port, “Skating and ice boating has taken up all the spare time of the young people this past week.” Yet, the sport of ice boating was not without its danger. In March 1902, the newspaper reported that at South Harwich “Harry Loveland is still confined to the house from an injury received while ice boating.” The very next year, in January 1903, Willie Nickerson nearly drowned while riding an ice boat at East Dennis.

In the 1930s there was a renewal of ice boating at Long Pond in Harwich, which continued into the 1940s. With the country now at war, in January 1942 the newspaper reported nostalgically on the activities at South Dennis: “During the recent cold spell young folks enjoyed skating on the old Creek – especially at night when the bonfires blazed. Some of us recall the days when ice boats were on Fresh Pond.”

With the conclusion of the war, the Pleasant Lake area of Harwich was once again home to ice boat races, thus keeping the winter sport alive as skippers competed to be the fastest. But the days of ice skating parties, bonfires, dances and sleigh rides were now of a bygone era, and the train no longer arrived to unload spectators by the hundreds to watch the races.

Even today, as the cold wind blows, and the temperature drops, and the snow flies, with a little imagination one can almost see the ghosts of former ice boats speeding across the glassy surface of Long Pond in Harwich, “going like meteors.”

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