Brookline, NH’s Ice Harvesting History Honored With An Historical Highway Marker Placed In December 2021
The history of the massive Fresh Pond Ice Company’s ice harvesting operations located on the shores of Lake Potanipo is remarkable. In 1890, Thomas S. Hittinger moved the Fresh Pond Ice Co.’s operations from Cambridge, MA to the eastern shores of Lake Potanipo. He began construction of his first ice houses immediately. The first ice harvest was during the winter of 1891/1892 and shipped that summer via the newly built Brookline Railroad. At its peak, the company owned 75 special ice freezer rail cars to ship its product. Fresh Pond Ice Co. employed over 250 men, could store over 100,000 tons of ice in 13 individual ice houses. It has been claimed that this operation “was the largest under one contiguous roof” in the world. [Many years of research have been conducted on this matter, and it has not been challenged at this time.]
The operation flourished for over thirty years. By the mid-1920’s electric refrigeration began to erode the demand for ice harvesting. Near 7pm on Friday, March 22, 1935, a massive and quick moving fire destroyed the remaining 7 ice houses. The cause was never determined; the advent of electric refrigeration ensured no rebuilding. There was one more effort to harvest ice two years after the fire. The last commercial ice harvest at Potanipo occurred during the ice shortage of 1937 where blocks were cut and loaded directly onto waiting rail cars.
In the fall of 2019, the Brookline Historical Society presented a Fresh Pond Ice Company and Brookline Railroad Historic presentation with a question-and-answer session. After the presentation, there were many great questions. A comment was made that Brookline should apply for an Historic Marker to recognize this rich history. There was much support from the audience and the necessary research had already been completed as part of the Brookline History Committees’ effort to update the town history. Keith Thompson volunteered to create the necessary signatory petition and place it at the Brookline Public Library. In short order, we received more than enough signers and Eric DiVirgilio of the Brookline Historical Society prepared and submitted the application to the N.H. Division of Historical Resources. There was a temporary halt to the program for nearly two years, but Brookline was first in line when it restarted in mid-2021.
Petition sign-up sheet used to acquire the necessary signatures.
The marker is located on the west side of Route 13 approximately two-tenths of a mile north of where that highway intersects with Mason and Meetinghouse Hill Roads.
The marker reads:
FRESH POND ICE COMPANY
“Beginning in 1890, Fresh Pond Ice Company operated on the eastern shore of Lake Potanipo. The first ice harvest was shipped to Boston for local distribution in 1892 on Brookline’s newly complete railroad. At its peak of operation, the company employed more than 250 people and harvested more than 100,000 tons of ice annually in 13 icehouses. The advent of electric refrigeration, coupled with a fire that destroyed the extensive complex of icehouses on March 22, 1935, effectively ended commercial ice harvesting at this location.”
It is the 271st marker in New Hampshire’s Historical Highway Marker program.