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Fire and Ice Days to take place at Old Sturbridge Village

Fire and Ice Days to take place at Old Sturbridge Village
Reminder Publications submitted photo
STURBRIDGE — Each summer and winter, Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) celebrates the contrast of hot and cold during its Fire and Ice Days. The winter version of the event will take place Jan. 29 and 30. The "Ice" portion of the weekend will include an exhibit of antique ice skates and historical ice cutting demonstrations replicating those before artificial refrigeration when New England ice was a "cash crop" shipped all over the world. Visitors can then warm up with fireside stories, 19th-century magic and hot cider for the "Fire" side of the event. Children under 17 get free admission this weekend and throughout the month of January — a $7 value per child; the offer does not apply to educational groups. More information is available at www.osv.org or 800-SEE-1830.
In the 1800s, ice from New England was exported all over the world, including to England, Caribbean islands, Brazil, India, Singapore and Australia. By 1876, when the U.S. ice industry peaked at 25 million tons harvested, ice ranked next to cotton and its revenues frequently exceeded those from grain. Ice harvesting was profitable, but labor-intensive, requiring 20 to 100 men to harvest one pond or lake. Once cut, the ice was stored locally, then often sent via railcar to other American cities and shipped internationally.
OSV costumed historians, along with ice harvesting expert Dennis Picard of Westfield, will demonstrate ice cutting following 19th-century methods. The ice is first marked into two-foot squares and then cut with large-toothed ice saws and broken off with heavy iron "breaker bars". Next, it is floated toward shore through a lane of open water with pikes and removed with long iron tongs. In the 19th century, it was then loaded onto sleds to be stored in ice house filled with straw or sawdust for insulation.
Though ice was once harvested from lakes and ponds of all sizes throughout New England, there were nine major sources for the large quantities of ice that were exported internationally from Massachusetts: Fresh Pond, Cambridge; Smith's Pond, Arlington; Spy Pond, Arlington; Sandy Pond, Ayer; Horn Pond, Woburn; Lake Quannapowitt, Wakefield; Haggett's Pond, Andover; Suntaug Lake, Lynnfield; and Wenham Lake, Wenham. The latter became world-famous, particularly among the aristocracy of London. The ice from Wenham was said to have exceptional purity and an ability to withstand temperature changes with less melting than ice from other locations. Today, the water in Wenham Lake is considerably less pure, after water from other sources was added to the lake. Now, only unusually cold winters result in any ice on the lake beyond a thin layer.
Nineteenth-century writer Alvaro Adsitt noted that ice cutting and harvesting was a uniquely American industry. In his 1894 article, "A Day on an Ice-Field" in DeMorest's Family Magazine. Adsitt quoted a contemporary observer, "Ice is an American institution. English ice is full of holes and so soft it melts if you speak loud; and as for the rest of Europe ... it hain't in sight. In Norway, I believe they do have some little fair ice; but one New York hotel would use up the whole crop.'"
In addition to OSV events scheduled specifically for this weekend, other winter activities will be ongoing throughout the winter, weather permitting. Visitors are encouraged to bring their skates and take a spin on the village skating rink and try out 19th-century sleds. Winter at Old Sturbridge Village offers the opportunity to experience the quiet calm of a snow-covered village and learn what early Americans did to keep warm and busy throughout the winter.
Old Sturbridge Village celebrates New England life from 1790-1840, and is one of the country's oldest and largest living history museums with more than 40 restored buildings, a working farm with heritage breed animals, heirloom gardens and more. The Village is famous for its crafts demonstrations and historical interpreters in period costume.
Located just off the Mass Pike, I-84 and Rte. 20 in Sturbridge, Mass., OSV is open year round with hours of operation varying seasonally. Admission: $20; seniors $18; children 3-17, free in January — regularly $7; children under 3, free. For details of all activities and hours of operation, visit www.osv.org or call 800-SEE-1830.

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