Danvers Ice Industry

On hot summer days, we take for granted the treat of having a crisp cold drink with ice cubes in it, not to mention the ability to refrigerate and freeze food. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the advent of the ice industry made this refrigeration possible and radically changed the lifestyles of everyday people. Danvers was the site of a booming local ice industry during these years, and a group of Danvers entrepreneurs capitalized on this new industry by establishing an international ice trade.

The Mill Pond, known for centuries as Putnam’s Pond, was the center of the local ice trade. The pond was originally a meadow that was flooded when Beaver Brook was dammed. The dam today is under Sylvan Street at one end of the pond, and for over 250 years the Putnam Family operated a sawmill powered by the flowing water. Although not the original intention, the pond became a perfect location to harvest ice.

Ice House and Saw Mill.jpg
(Putnam saw mill in the foreground, with the ice houses in the background. Road at bottom right is Sylvan St. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

The Otis F. Putnam Ice Company took advantage of this opportunity. Boards would be added to the dam to raise the water level in the pond at the start of winter. Over the course of the cold months, the pond would freeze at least 10 inches deep. Then, the snow would be shoveled off, and metal tools were used to cut a grid pattern 3 inches deep into the ice. A horse then pulled a sharp tool down the pre-cut grid lines, separating the squares into blocks of ice.

Ice Harvesting.jpg
(Workers from the Otis F. Putnam Ice Company harvesting ice from the Mill Pond in 1900. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

These blocks were then floated over to the Sylvan Street dam and through the narrow opening to an ice house that sat where the Walnut Grove Cemetery is now. The blocks were packed in sawdust or hay, which insulated them and prevented melting. About 6,000 tons of ice were harvested each year from the pond, and some years two rounds of ice could be harvested if the weather stayed cold long enough.

Ice House
(Another view of Putnam’s ice house, located at the present-day site of Walnut Grove Cemetery. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

During the warmer months, the iceman traveled around town in an insulated wagon delivering ice to the kitchens of Danvers to keep food cold in the iceboxes. This Mill Pond ice was used primarily for refrigeration, not as ice cubes in drinks. One reason is that ice was too expensive to use frivolously, but also the quality of the water was in question. Beginning in 1901 the town consulted with the state board of health about pollution in the pond from nearby industries, and the state restricted the consumption of ice to only the top most layers of the pond.

Putnam Ice Wagon.jpg
(The Otis F. Putnam Ice Company delivery wagon at the turn of the century. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

While the Putnam Ice Company served local customers, another group of Danversites plied their talents at the international ice trade. In 1845 a fire swept through downtown Danvers, which destroyed the house and shop of shoe manufacturer Joshua Silvester. He then went to England to establish a shoe factory, but while there discovered the great demand for ice in the large cities of Britain. When he returned to Danvers in 1846, he suggested to several of his friends that they should enter the ice business. Silvester himself was unable to be a partner after the losses he suffered in the fire, so his friends formed a stock company led by Henry T. Ropes.

The Danvers businessmen bought out a Salem company owned by Charles B. Lander that was doing a brisk trade sending ice from Wenham Lake to icehouses in Liverpool, England. The ice was cut and collected at Wenham Lake, and shipped by rail to Boston where it was packed in sawdust for the voyage to England. One of the builders of the rail spur from Wenham Lake to the railroad mainline along Locust St. in Danvers was Grenville Dodge, the Danvers native who later oversaw the building of the eastern half of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The business was slow to make returns for the Danvers men, but Ropes persevered and became very wealthy once the business took off.  From 1860 to 1880 Wenham Lake produced as much as 30,000 tons of ice annually, but this was not enough to meet demand. As the business expanded in Britain, the Danvers company needed to ship more ice than could be supplied locally so it expanded operations into Norway. Although it may seem hard to believe that shipping ice across the ocean in cargo ships was cost-effective, it was actually far cheaper to send this natural ice halfway around the world than it was to make “artificial ice” with prohibitively expensive machines.

The Danvers company marketed its ice not just to ordinary consumers for refrigeration, but also to the wealthy for use as ice cubes in drinks. The early shipments of ice from New England changed British society. One other early American ice company also imported American bar tenders to show the London elite how to enjoy cocktails with ice in them.

On April 2, 1892, a Liverpool newspaper ran an article with the headline “Ice is King” which described the Danvers company’s enormous success over the previous decades. The article also noted that the company had presented a gift of ice to Queen Victoria and the Royal Family, who were quite pleased with this new luxury.

Both locally and internationally the ice industry continued until the age of electrical refrigeration. The ice houses along the Mill Pond in Danvers burned down in 1935, thereby ending the local harvesting of ice. But, the ice at the Mill Pond continued to be used by children who skated on it for decades, until it no longer froze through solidly enough to be safe.

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Sources:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Annual Report of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts. Vol. 41. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Co., 1910.

“Natural Ice.” Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal, March 1906.

Putnam, A.P. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, July 1892.

———. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, August 1892.

———. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, September 1892.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Zollo, Richard P., Richard B. Trask, and Joan M. Reedy. As the Century Turned: Photographic Glimpses of Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1989.

The Danvers Library and Its Benefactor, George Peabody

(In the Danvers Herald, April 18, 2019)

Danvers Library 2019 - Dan Gagnon
(Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, 2019. Author’s photo)

Danvers’ Peabody Institute Library, one of several “Peabody Institutes” across the United States, is named for noted philanthropist and Danvers native George Peabody. He was born in 1795 in the South Parish of Danvers, which later became the Town of South Danvers and is now the City of Peabody.

File:George Peabody House.JPG
(George Peabody House Museum, Peabody, Mass. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Peabody_House.jpg)

George Peabody grew up poor and received little education (this was before Danvers had a public high school), so he went to work at age 12 as a clerk. He volunteered as a soldier in the War of 1812, and then returned to work in various dry-goods stores. He later impressed a wealthy merchant in New York and became his business partner.

Peabody later moved to London and established his own bank, George Peabody & Co. As a banker, he loaned money to foreign kingdoms and empires, and helped establish the credit of the US Treasury abroad. George Peabody and Co. still exists, though it was renamed a generation later to the probably more familiar “J.P. Morgan & Co.” Peabody never married or had a family, and he chose Morgan’s father as his protégé. Peabody’s bank is the predecessor to the present-day banks J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Away in London in 1852, Peabody regretted that he could not attend the celebrations of Danvers’ 100th anniversary. As an invited guest of honor, he had the privilege of giving a toast at the banquet, which followed a grand parade. Instead, Peabody sent a sealed envelope containing a toast that was dramatically read at the gala: “Education, a debt due from past to future generations.” Putting his money where his mouth was, the envelope also included an announcement that he was donating $20,000 to establish a library for Danvers.

When he finally returned home in 1856, he received a hero’s welcome. Having split only one year prior, both Danvers and South Danvers gave a joint reception for Peabody, who visited his hometown as his first stop back in the US. He arrived at the Maple St. Church in Danvers Square and was greeted by a one-hundred gun volley. From there, a parade travelled across town and through triumphal arches erected for the occasion, as people threw flowers and cannon salutes boomed.

That day he told a group of children from his former neighborhood, “(Your) early opportunities and advantages are not very much greater than were my own, and I have since achieved nothing that is impossible to the most humble boy among you.”

Peabody Mural - Richard V. Ellery
(Mural in the Danvers library depicting George Peabody’s return to Danvers based on drawings from the time. The mural was done by Danvers artist Richard V. Ellery as part of the Works Progress Administration’s art projects during the Great Depression. Author’s photo.)

Although stingy and thrifty in his personal life – a holdover from his impoverished childhood – he is remembered as “the father of modern philanthropy” for donating the majority of his fortune to educational institutions in America and to the Peabody Trust, which continues his mission to provide affordable housing to over 110,000 Londoners. He was admired for his charity in London, where even British nobility attended his American Independence Day party each July 4th.

In addition to the libraries of Danvers, Peabody, and Georgetown, his donations established the Peabody Academy of Sciences (now the Peabody Essex Museum) in Salem. Focused on education, Peabody donated to many universities across the United States. Harvard University, Yale University, and Phillips Academy, Andover have museums named in his honor.

Peabody made subsequent visits home with large receptions each time, and donated more than $100,000 towards the Peabody Institute, Danvers. In 1869 he returned for the dedication of the Institute, built at Peabody Park in Danvers along the banks of the Mill Pond. Guests who attended the events at the Institute  that week included Senator Charles Sumner and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The original building was a Gothic Revival structure. It caught fire in 1890, though many books and a large portrait of Peabody (that still hangs in the library today) were saved from the flames. The present structure was built in 1892 on the same spot. It featured a large auditorium and stage for events and lectures, in addition to reading rooms. The auditorium was removed in 1981 and more floors for books were built. During this renovation, space for the children’s room and Danvers Archival Center was added below ground.

Peabody Portrait
(Portrait of George Peabody saved from the fire. It still hangs in the library today. Author’s photo)

Library Auditorium
(The interior of the library showing the auditorium, 1978. Photo by Ron Gagnon)

Remnants of Stage
(Remnants of the auditorium stage seen in 2019. Author’s photo.)

The 1869 trip home for the dedication was Peabody’s last. A statue of him was dedicated later that year outside the Royal Exchange in London, and he died soon after. His last words were, “Danvers, Danvers! Don’t forget!,” referring to his wish to be buried in his hometown. A funeral was held for him at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Queen Victoria, who also rode in his funeral cortège. The Queen admired Peabody, and once offered him a title of nobility, which he refused as an American. Peabody was temporarily buried in the Abbey, the first American to ever be buried there.


(Dedication of Peabody statue, Royal Exchange, London. From the Illustrated London News, July 31, 1869)

File:Funeral of George Peabody at Westminster Abbey, 1869 ILN.jpg
(Peabody’s Funeral at Westminster Abbey. From the Illustrated London News, 1869)

But, Peabody wished to be buried in his hometown. In another first for an American, on the Queen’s orders a squadron of Royal Navy warships transported Peabody’s body across the Atlantic. After another funeral attended by the Queen’s son Prince Arthur in Peabody, Mass. (which changed its name in his honor the previous year), Peabody was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.

In 1995 hundreds of people gathered in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Peabody’ birth, which shows the lasting positive effect of his philanthropy. The event included the organist playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the same church in which the British monarchs are crowned.

In March, 2018, Peabody was remembered by Google, which featured an image of him and several educational institutions that he endowed – including the Danvers library – above the search bar on Google.com.

Google honors George Peabody, considered 'the father
(George Peabody and the Danvers Library on the Google homepage, March, 2018)

In the words of a London pamphlet describing Peabody soon after his death: “He acquired riches for the sake of doing good.”

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Sources:

Best, Antony. On the Fringes of Diplomacy: Influences on British Foreign Policy, 1800–1945. Routledge, 2016.

Chernow, Ron. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Dean and Chapter of Westminster. “George Peabody, Philanthropist.” Westminster Abbey. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/george-peabody/.

“Funeral of George Peabody at Westminster Abbey.” New York Times, November 13, 1869. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1869/11/13/80248714.pdf.

George Peabody. Peabody Donation Presented To The Peabody Institute Danvers Massachusetts U.S. By George Peabody Of London 1862. London: J.W.L Maude, 1862. http://archive.org/details/PeabodyDonationPresentedToThePeabodyInstituteDanversMassachusettsByGeorgePeabodyOfLondon1862.

George Peabody, the Philanthropist, and Working Man’s Friend. London: W. Partridge and Co., 1870.

Glauber, Bill. “Service in London Honors Memory of George Peabody Philanthropist Spread Charitable Deeds in Great Britain, America.” The Baltimore Sun. November 17, 1995. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1995-11-17-1995321035-story.html.

Hanaford, Phebe Ann. The Life of George Peabody: Containing a Record of Those Princely Acts of Benevolence Which Entitle Him to the Esteem and Gratitude of All Friends of Education and the Destitute, Both in America, The Land of His Birth, And in England, The Land of His Death. Boston: B.B. Russell, 1870.

“Peabody Housing Association | About Us | London.” Peabody. Accessed April 6, 2019. https://www.peabody.org.uk/about-us.

Peabody Institute, Danvers. Proceedings at the Reception and Dinner in Honor of George Peabody, Esq. of London, by the Citizens of the Old Town of Danvers, October 9, 1856. To Which Is Appended an Historical Sketch of the Peabody Institute, with the Exercises at the Laying of the Corner-Stone and at the Dedication .. Boston: H. W. Dutton & Son, 1856. http://archive.org/details/proceedingsatrec02danv.

“Peabody Institute Library of Danvers.” Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System. Accessed April 1, 2019. http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=DAN.220.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Trustees of the Peabody Institute. Annual Report of the Trustees of Peabody Institute, Danvers, Mass., For the Year Ending March 1, 1898. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Mirror Press, 1898.

Wallis, Severn Teackle. Discourse on the Life and Character of George Peabody. Peabody Institute, Baltimore, 1870.