Cape Pond Ice History & Photos




Cape Pond Ice Company was started as Gloucester Co. in 1848 by blacksmith Nathaniel R. Webster, who recognized the need for supplying the fresh fish industry with a reliable, volume source of ice.  Prior to that time fish – primarily halibut & cod – was preserved by salting and brine.

Webster dammed a local brook and built his first ice house on what became known as Webster’s Pond, today the site of Veteran’s Memorial School and the Route 128 extension.

The ice industry went through rapid growth, and within four years Webster built ice houses on Upper & Lower Day’s Ponds, where Foster’s Serv Station is located, and on Cape Pond in Rockport, which the company is still named after.

Webster’s son took over the Cape Ann ice monopoly in 1858.  Two of the Company ice houses, which burned in the 1940’s, were known as the “Great House” and the “Grove”. Today only massive granite foundations remain. Cape Pond remains the primary water supply for the town of Rockport.

As the fisheries flourished in the years following the Civil War, so did the ice industry.  Every body of water accessible by teams of men and horses was soon harvested for ice during winter months.  The “frozen lode” was stored in salt hay, cork and sawdust insulation until it was needed in the summer.  Competitors also entered the local ice industry – most prominently Francis W. Homans, who in 1876 created a 32 acre man-made lake on Essex Avenue for the purpose of harvesting ice.  His house at Fernwood Lake in West Gloucester was at the time the largest building in Massachusetts, measuring 105’ by 205’, and capable of holding 10,000 tons of ice.  Today Sonolight Plastic’s factory is inside the foundation of the old house on Fernwood Lake.

After a lively period of “ice wars” when the two competing businesses reportedly sabotaged each other’s winter harvests, in 1908 Cape Pond Ice and Fernwood Lake companies merged. By 1916, operated by James and Freeman Abbott, the company also had an house at Alton Bay, on Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, where ice could be brought to Gloucester by rail as an insurance policy against poor harvests during warm winters.

The industry employed large crews of men to harvest, store, and deliver ice around Cape Ann. In 1916, sixty (60) men were employed during the cutting season, with 20 teams and 5 automobile trucks. In addition to a large delivered household ice trade, the company continued to supply large quantities of ice to the Gloucester fisheries, and also to the summer hotels. The company’s office was located at 105 ½ Main Street, Gloucester, where a display of modern, electric refrigerators soon replaced boxes. The 1925 Cape Pond Ice Co. annual outing at Centennial Grove in Essex was commemorated in a photograph with 45 men and boys, including many Aptts, Abbotts, Days, Tebos and other local Cape Ann family names.

In the early 1940’s, Gloucester & Cold Storage was constructed on the Gloucester waterfront on the new State Fish Pier. The new plant took advantage of modern mechanical refrigeration technology, using electricity instead of relying on Mother Nature during New England winters to cut ice from the ponds.

In 1946 entrepreneur John Ryan built the present Cape Pond Ice manufacturing plant at the end of Commercial Street, on the site of the Fort Wharf Company on Gloucester Harbor. This was a “modern” block plant, with 3,600 4’ x 2’ x 1’ molds for 300 pound ice blocks, manufactured in an indoor concrete “pond” refrigerated with compressed ammonia, and harvested by overhead cranes. Over 300 tons of ice can be made each day to reliably serve the needs of a then flourishing fishing industry.

For many years through the 1970’s and 1980’s, as the Gloucester fishing industry thrived under the Magnuson Act and the new 200 mile limit excluding foreign fishing vessels, Gloucester Ice was managed by feisty Everett “Andy” Anderson, and Cape Pond Ice by General Manager, Phil Harvey.