Cape Pond Ice Company - 157 Years of Gloucester History
Want to learn more? We have books and postcards available at our online store.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.
In the photo to the right, you can see the two Company ice houses, which burned in the 1940's - 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.
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.
Cape Pond Company - Today
New insulated siding was installed to replace deteriorated 40 year-old cork insulation on the three-story house. The new technology, side-by-side with the existing 300 ton block plant, allows Cape Pond Ice Company to competitively serve its markets with a range of products and manufacturing options.
The fishing vessels pulling up to the company wharf take anywhere from 300 pounds to 30 tons of ice per fishing trip. The company is open year round, and round-the-clock for commercial appointments. Cape Pond Ice can pump at a ton per minute on up to three fishing vessels at a time, as well as loading tractor trailers and trucks with either block ice or blown crushed ice . Pallets of 30 pound, 40 pound and 5 pound bagged ice are shipped around Cape Ann and New England.
In addition to commercial fishing vessels and processors, the company serves broccoli and poultry farmers, redi-mix concrete contractors, and custom ice sculpture markets. Ice used by contractors working in Boston on the Third Harbor Tunnel and Central Artery, to slow the curing temperature of large concrete pours, has helped in offsettting declines from fishing.
Up to 30 workers are employed during busy summer months, working two shifts and operating up to four delivery vehicles. As locals know, on a hot summer weekend or July 4th, Cape Pond Ice is the source for ice bags and crushed ice for parties and picnics.