Cape Pond, Rockport, Mass., circa 1914

Nowadays, everyone on Cape Ann knows who holds bragging rights as the coolest guys around. But Cape Pond Ice became known well beyond Cape Ann when it was featured in both the book and the movie, The Perfect Storm. Cape Pond Ice is named for Rockport’s Cape Pond, where for many years the company harvested ice to supply Gloucester’s fleet of fishing schooners.

The company now known as Cape Pond Ice was started in 1848 by Nathaniel R. Webster, a blacksmith. He started by damming a brook in Gloucester and creating Webster’s Pond. (The pond was on Webster St., where Veteran’s Memorial School is now. Here is an 1889 map that shows its location.) Five years later, he expanded to Upper and Lower Day’s Ponds in Gloucester and to Cape Pond in Rockport. Much of this history is recounted on the Cape Pond Ice website.

John J. Babson’s 1860 book, History of the Town of Gloucester, provides a description of Cape Pond around the time Webster started taking ice from it:

[Cape Pond] is situated near the easterly end of the Cape; and is a beautiful sheet of water, covering about seventy acres. It is nearly environed by high and rocky hills, which on one side recede with abruptness from the shore. Perch and pickerel are occasionally caught there; but it is seldom visited for the purpose of fishing. The brook by which it has its outlet takes a westerly direction; and after flowing about two miles, in part through a swamp filled with the high blueberry and other shrubs, mingles its waters with those of the sea, at Mill River. Trout have been taken from this stream; but it is not so plentifully supplied with them as to make it a resort for anglers.

In 1858, Webster’s son, also named Nathaniel, took over the company. The company continued to thrive over the years, holding a monopoly on the ice business on Cape Ann. In 1870, the Massachusetts legislature authorized Webster to build a railroad running from Beaver Dam Farm (the site of the Babson cooperage museum on Eastern Ave.) to Cape Pond.

In 1898, the town of Rockport tried to put a stop to Webster’s ice business on Cape Pond. Four years earlier, in 1894, the state legislature authorized the town to take control of Cape Pond as a public water supply. In 1898, the town filed a lawsuit against Webster asking the court to issue a permanent injunction to stop him from cutting ice from the pond. The town won its case in the Superior Court, but Webster appealed to the state Supreme Judicial Court. In 1899, the SJC ruled that Webster could continue to harvest ice from Cape Pond, concluding that the activity had no effect on the town’s use of the water or on the purity of the water.

The two ice houses on Cape Pond, which you can see here, burned in the 1940s.

Another challenge to Webster’s business came from a competitor. In 1876, Francis W. Homans went into the ice business to compete with Webster. Homans constructed Fernwood Lake in West Gloucester and built ice houses there. He soon set off a price war, undercutting Webster’s price by selling his ice at $2.50 a ton and winning a great deal of the fishing industry’s business. Even when Webster cut his price to $2 a ton, fish dealers continued to patronize Homans, according to an account in the 1908 Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal. In the late 1890s, Homans further secured the good will of Gloucester’s fishing community when he made a will that bequethed his business to the widows and orphans of fishermen and the Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Apparently, that all changed around 1908, when Homans, then aged 70, married a much younger woman. That year, Homans sold his business, the Fernwood Lake Ice Company, to the  company that then owned Cape Pond Ice, F.H. Abbott & Company. With that, Cape Pond once again became the sole provider of ice to fishing boats on Cape Ann, with the capacity to store some 120,000 tons of ice.

This postcard does not identify a publisher or a date of publication. It is postally unused, so there is no postmark. I have seen another copy of this same postcard that had a postmark of 1914. So I am estimating that it is from about that year.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s