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Old Sturbridge harvests 'most important cash crop' Jan. 30

Old Sturbridge harvests 'most important cash crop' Jan. 30 icecutting.jpg
Historians at Old Sturbridge Village will demonstrate ice harvesting as part of the museum's annual "Fire & Ice Day" celebration.
STURBRIDGE Historians at Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) will demonstrate the harvesting one of early New England's most important cash crops ice on Jan. 30 as part of the museum's annual "Fire & Ice Day" celebration. In addition, OSV is offering free admission for children through Jan. 31 for kids age 17 and under (a $7 value per child; the offer does not apply to educational groups of 10 or more). Visitors can try their hands at cutting ice on the village's frozen mill pond using old-time ice saws much like those pioneered by Boston's "Ice King," Frederick Tudor, who grew wealthy shipping ice from New England ponds to the tropics for refrigeration in the early 1800s. Museum historians will also present "Of Ice and Men: A History of Skates and Skating," and will display antique ice skates from the village collection. Native American historian Marge Bruchac, portraying an "Indian Doctress," will present "Ice Monsters: Algonkian Indian Winter Stories" and "Fur Mittens and Wooden Snowshoes: Algonkian Winter Fashions." On "Fire & Ice Day" OSV will also offer sleigh rides, sledding and ice skating, weather permitting. (These activities are free with museum admission.) Guests can warm up indoors with hot cider and enjoy fireside songs, stories and shadow puppetry. Indoor and outdoor activities will be ongoing throughout the day. For more details call 1-800-SEE-1830 or visit www.osv.org. For ice harvesting, OSV historians will follow old fashioned methods cutting ice, making sure the ice is at least 12 inches thick, and that any snow on top is scraped off. The ice is first marked into two-foot squares, and then separated with large-toothed ice saws and "breaker bars" and pikes. Then, it is either floated through a lane of open water or loaded on sleds to be stored in ice houses with straw or sawdust for insulation. "With farm fields covered with snow and mill races frozen, ice harvesting was a great way for young men in New England to extra money," noted historian Tom Kelleher, curator of mechanical trades at OSV. Kelleher also noted that people have been ice skating since ancient times, and the first ice skates were probably animal rib bones strapped to the feet. A few American firms began to manufacture ice skates in the 1820s, and by mid-century, machinists Seth and Samuel Winslow of Worcester, Mass., were manufacturing 20,000 pairs of skates annually. Other New England skate makers included Union Hardware of Torrington, Conn., and Barney and Berry of Springfield. In Boston, special excursion trains ran to Jamaica Pond carrying up to 1,500 ice skaters daily. To eliminate the risk to skaters of falling through the ice and drowning, American cities began to search for safer alternatives. According to Kelleher, in 1861 the city of New Haven, Conn., used its new water system to create a large artificial pond in Hamilton Park. That same year the New Haven Fire Department began its annual "custom of flooding a corner of the Green for skating enthusiasts." Like skaters on today's modern rinks, skaters there could indeed still fall down, but were in no danger of falling in. OSV celebrates New England life in the 1830s and is open year round but hours change seasonally. Winter hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and the village is open for all Monday holidays and open daily during school vacation weeks. Admission is $20 for adults; $18 for seniors; $7 for children three to 17; and free for children under 3. Each admission includes a free second-day visit within 10 days. For more information, visit www.osv.org or call 1-800-SEE-1830.

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