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by Josh Withe – Lebanon, Maine - USA

Back before the days of refrigeration those who lived in the towns and cities had a way to keep their food cold, the ice box. With ice supplied every day or so by the ice man who delivered the cold of winter all summer long.


At some point in time before electricity and after the steam engine a group of men built a small dam in a farmers pasture. They made the dam so it normally allowed the water to flow through, but each fall after the salt hay was harvested from the marshes in town, they plugged the outlet pipe up and flooded the swampy field. On a small hill near the pond they had a huge series of barn like structures, and a steam plant powering a huge conveyor lift. After the winter cold came to stay they measured the ice until a certain depth was found, then the channel to the conveyor was cut open, the steam plant fired up and the ice harvest was on. Each block was cut, pulled by horses to the conveyor, slid into place in an ice house, and then packed in sawdust and hay to sit until it was removed and cut the following year.

Then one year the local fire departments were called to Frost's Ice House, for days they battled a fire that would not quit, more than once they packed up the hand pumpers and canvas hoses, only to be called out again to fight the fire. When it was done, the ice house was gone.

In the mid 80's my parents built a new house on a small hill, out in back was a peat bog with a stream flowing through it. After a year or two some beavers built a dam at the site of an old ice pond dam, and turned the bog into a pond. From our history lessons at school we learned that the pond was once an ice pond where ice was cut in the winter, packed in double walled barns with plenty of saw dust insulation and then shipped all around the world from the port of Newburyport, MA by ship. (The sad fate or more than one clipper ship, masts and rigging stripped, hull packed with sawdust and ice, towed by a steam launch.) Due to the lack of use in the 100 plus years since the ice house burned down, the pond was thick with brush.

Being kids who loved boats, and having a canoe lying in the back yard, my sister and I had to explore the pond. Getting out to the open water where we could paddle involved forcing the canoe through about 50 yards of a narrow trail left behind by the deer who feed on the crab apple trees in our yard. The brush was too thick to push through with a paddle so we used my dad's push pole, a piece of reject fiberglass rod from my dad's work. He worked at a factory that still makes industrial fuses, using the fiberglass rod as the casing for the fuse wire packed in sand, (when the fuse blows the sand melts into glass and absorbs the heat) a 8 foot length of 1.25" fiberglass was rather light and with wooden plugs in the end to keep it from packing up with mud, allowed my 75 lbs. to walk the canoe out through the brush.

My son and my nephews first launch of their mice was on Frost's Ice pond.

The kids explore the newest and biggest beaver lodge, the third one on the pond, the other two are now submerged.

The kids explore the new dam, that downed tree was on the very edge of the old dam, the new one runs down the middle of the road on top of the old dam.

Fiberglass push poles I found in my parents garage.

Same canoe, same kid (in the bow), same pond. My B-I-L and I get back from chasing the kids up and down the pond in their new mice. As you can see in the pictures at the launch area there is no need for a push pole now.

Enjoying some October foliage on the pond at sunset.

Discovered the site my sister an I had a fort (wigwam) on the other side of the pond now has a bench belonging to the new housing development on the ridge behind the pond.

While they made great push poles, they were also great tomato stakes, my grandmother had just about everything in her garden climbing or tied to those old poles. Left outside exposed to the sun and rain the poles didn't last and are so brittle they just crumble, (I had a few from my grandmothers garden in my garden until they disintegrated) something about the spinning process that fails if it isn't coated. These were all rejects that would have been shredded and reused but my dad (or anyone at the company) could buy them by the foot. I wonder if we were early to the fiberglass shaft users.

After a few years of enjoying the pond, the man who owned all the land around it decided it was time to develop the hundreds of acres the pond provided road frontage too. He cut a deal with the local environmental people and cut the old dam, overnight the beavers built a dam around the cut. He had the small dam removed more than once, but the beavers had plenty of sticks to build a new dam. Then he had a culvert put in the old dam, I know for sure, somehow, a plywood board happened to almost completely plug the culvert. Then the beavers plugged that culvert full of sticks and mud.

That winter a trapper caught the beavers and that spring the old pipe in the dam had many decades of debris removed. There was a tiny pond during the spring melt, but my little canoe dock was high and dry. The survey people found water plants in the area the owner wanted a road, and the whole project fell through. I joined a new rowing club on the Merrimack River and went on to bigger and better adventures involving Dories and races all up and down the coast.

Three or four years ago, my parents told me the pond was back, another beaver or beavers had taken over the pond again. In no time they had rebuilt the cut in the old dam, plugged the old pipe, and then built another dam above the old stone wall we had never been able to get beyond. In a year the beavers raised a dam on top of the old one a foot or two higher, and doubled the size of the pond beyond what it had ever been before. We could float right over the stone wall that blocked us for years, and by the next spring, float right over the upper dam they built as well, right up to the next stone wall we had never seen before.

Taking advantage of the new water level I opened up a new launch on the corner of my parent's property. (Turns out I was a few feet onto the other guys land at my boat launch before.) Between the beavers making a wide channel to get to the trees near there, and the new water level, we now have a nice wide channel going out to the open water, so we don't need the push poles now, but I did find a couple stored in my parent's garage. Today, as you turn into my parent's driveway, if you look off to the left, you can see the channel leading out onto the lake where the ice cakes were once towed in.

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