Ice Cutting on Hopedale Pond - A Memory Rekindled
By Gordon E. Hopper
which nature had intended it to be.
With the covering of brush, trees and other undergrowth found there today plus the public and private
property sections found on the waterfront, it is a little difficult to conceive the previous existence of any
industry at this pond.
As you probably now surmise, yes, there was a commercial interest once operating on the shore
and on the surface of Hopedale Pond. A Hopedale item in the Milford News for Sept. 14, 1890, stated
that the Hopedale Ice Company was in the process of constructing three new ice houses. Each one
was to be 120 feet long and 30 feet wide.
Shortly after the construction of this cluster of buildings had been completed, the Grafton and Upton
Railroad installed a spur track between their main line and the ice houses. Commencing then and
continuing until sometime after 1920, railroad cars carried ice from these buildings to markets and
customers in Boston.
The spur left the main line at a point a little north of the Freedom Street railroad crossing and curved
through the woods until it reached a loading area near the ice houses. Examination of the railroad
siding area today reveals a much grown up wooded area but signs of the abandoned siding roadbed
are still slightly visible.
An example of the amount of ice harvested by this operation is that 12,000 tons of ice was recorded
as having been cut and stored during the season of 1920.
There were several times during the years in which the Hopedale Ice Company cut ice on the pond
when the structures caught on fire. They were always repaired or replaced and business continued
until sometime in 1942.
One instance took place during 1904. In that year, plans were made to build a bathhouse in the
Hopedale Parklands. It was decided to take down the old ice house and to use its lumber for the
frame and sheathing of the new bath house. While the building was being dismantled it caught on fire.
(This sounds like Hopper is referring to a Hopedale Ice Company icehouse, but other sources say that
it was the Henry Patrick icehouse on the east side of the pond that was going to be razed and the
lumber used for the bathhouse.)
Being an old dry building, it burned so rapidly that the lives of the men working on the roof were
endangered. Their tools and the implements stored inside the building were quickly consumed, the
men being forced to vacate very quickly.
If this wasn't bad enough, the fire spread to the woods and made its way to Darling Hill. (Darling Hill
was the name of the Parklands area west of Hopedale Pond along the Hopedale-Mendon town line.) It
consumed several hundred acres of woodland and burned for a week, despite the efforts to extinguish
it. It is documented that the Grafton and Upton Railroad carried containers of water to the area, where it
was used in combating the flames.
Russell Dennett of the Hopedale Coal and Ice Company can recall the times during the 1940s when
he and other local high school students were employed to cut or store the cakes of ice after school
hours and on Saturdays.
Normally, the ice was cut by a man operating a gasoline powered machine which drove a large
circular saw blade through and along the ice as he moved along the surface. One man who cut ice by
this method was Lee P. Taylor.
Previous to the days of powered operations, it was necessary to scrape the snow away from the area
to be cut. A special line marker tool was used to mark the ice where cuts were to be made. Using the
marks made by this tool as a guide, a man would then cut through the ice using a hand saw.
The pieces of ice, after being cut, would be pushed by men using special tools for the purpose,
along an open water channel leading to the run which was actually a conveyor installed on the outside
of the building. The device would carry the ice up to where it would be pushed by men into a storage
spot inside the ice house.
Without fail, no matter where ice cutting was done, it was always common for someone to slip and
fall into the icy water. This meant a trip home, a change into dry clothing, return to the job and then to
absorb some kidding and ridicule from other workers.
Before the end of the ice cutting operations on Hopedale Pond had arrived, the original three
buildings had been changed to become a very large seven section single building. A windmill and a
pump house were utilized to obtain power. (Just a thought here. Doesn't it seem more likely that the
windmill operated the pump rather than the windmill and pump house were used for power? Since ice
was often kept cold by insulating it with sawdust, perhaps as it was about to be shipped out, it was
rinsed with water from the pond, pumped by the windmill.)
Cutting ice came to a conclusion during 1942. In December of 1944, the entire property was
purchased by Thomas and Priscilla West. (He was the president of Draper Corporation.) The ice
houses were removed and today a beautiful home stands on the site.
It is interesting to note that between the time when cutting operations ceased and 1955, the
Hopedale Coal and Ice Company manufactured 20 tons of ice each day at the Hope Street facility. This
was done by machine and was in the form of 300 pound blocks.
There is a little more to the story because a memento remains of the ice business which is not
generally known. The pump house associated with the ice house was sold in 1948 and moved away.
A team of large horses owned by William Taylor hauled the building to a new location behind the
Durgin home at 120 Dutcher Street in Hopedale.
It was re-shingled, its sidewalls were covered with new material, and the building was painted red.
The small structure was named "The Little Red Schoolhouse" and, it was operated as a nursery
school by Mrs.Ethel Durgin from 1948 until 1959. A bell once used on a very old American LaFrance
Hopedale Fire Department ladder truck reposes today on one end of this very substantial building.
Although the outside walls have been covered, one small area was left untouched to allow the
original construction to remain visible. The building uses 6-inch studs and both inside and outside
were rough boarded.
Even if the old pump house from the Hopedale Ice Company's operation is gone and the Little Red
Schoolhouse may also be gone, something still remains. The building continues to exist, now serving
as a workshop for its owner, Hopedale's Fire Chief, Herbert S. Durgin.
A toast to its long life. Milford Daily News, January 27, 1975.
I think it's likely that the Hopedale Ice Company and the Hopedale Coal Company were under the
same ownership which originated with the Hopedale Stable. Eventually they were combined as the
Hopedale Coal and Ice Company.
Cutting ice on Lake Nipmuc - video on YouTube Businesses Menu HOME
and somewhat similar to what the Hopedale Coal & Ice Company was doing on Hopedale
Pond, but it is of an earlier period, so some of the things shown here were modernized a
bit by the period described by Hopper.