In his recent commentary (Chronicle, Nov. 28),
Jesse Gordon suggests opening Fresh Pond reservoir
for additional recreational use, such as boating
and swimming. Certainly it’s an idea, which has
Some time ago (Cambridge Current: " The Fresh
Pond Hotel " ), I wrote about Fresh Pond, when it
was both a vacation resort and source for
commercial ice harvesting. These excerpts
The blue plaque on the building caught my
attention: " Fresh Pond Hotel, 1796. Built by
Jacob Wyeth at Kingsley Park as a summer resort on
Fresh Pond. Moved to Lakeview Avenue in 1892. "
Planning to develop a rural resort, Jacob Wyeth
purchased that part of his family’s farm, which
overlooked the pond. His timing was perfect — the
West Boston Bridge had recently opened (1793).
The resort became popular with Bostonians
wanting to escape the city for a country weekend.
After such an outing, Charles Francis Adams wrote,
" The hotel stands on a sort of headland and the
thick shade of trees give it a very pretty effect.
The hotel flourished in that pre-railroad era,
remaining popular until after the Civil War. When
people could travel with greater ease, they began
going farther away on excursions. Yet, in its
time, even foreign visitors to Cambridge
considered it a place to see.
The area was a favorite place for strolling and
for resting in the shade by the clear blue water.
Boats were available to rent for rowing and
sailing, or you could spend an afternoon bowling
nine pins. There was also a riding stable — it was
considered a great place for a winter sleigh
Longfellow wrote about the " loveliness " of
sailing on the " lake. " On early mornings, young
Winslow Homer fished here before going to work as
a copy artist in Boston. William James took Sunday
walks around the pond with William Dean Howells,
no doubt discussing philosophy and literature. As
a Harvard undergraduate, Teddy Roosevelt would
risk frostbite skating on the pond, at night in
bitter cold weather.
During these high times, the hotel was famous
for catering Boston social events. In his diary,
Oliver Wendell Holmes praised the dinner he
enjoyed here with classmates the evening before
his Harvard commencement. He was especially
pleased with the lengthy wine list, which included
claret, champagne and Madeira.
In 1886, Cambridge passed temperance laws,
bringing an end to the gala affairs. Sold to the
sisters of St. Joseph, the hotel became a convent.
Later, moved to its present site, it was converted
Ice would make the pond world-famous. In 1805,
Frederick Tudor began harvesting the crystal-clear
blocks from the pond, shipping them all the way to
Martinique. He became known as the " Ice King "
when " Fresh Pond Ice " signs began to appear in
the sweltering regions of the world from Cuba to
Nathaniel Wyeth, the son of the hotel owner,
joined the enterprise, contributing to its success
by devising new methods for cutting and storing
ice. By 1846, Tudor could boast of shipping 65,000
tons of ice throughout the world.
Business tripled in the following decade.
During the spring harvest, six-horse teams carried
ice, from dawn to dusk, down the streets of
Cambridge to the wharves. The coming of the
railroad expedited these shipments, when a station
was built near the pond.
This commercial success played havoc with the
once-tranquil beauty of the pond. Tall ice houses
and housing for workmen were built along the
In time, water from the pond became a valued
resource. In 1856, a private company began pumping
" pure " water from the pond to residents who
could afford it, as an alternative to private
wells. The water company constructed a wood-lined
reservoir at the top of the hill, which is now the
intersection of Reservoir and Highland
As Cambridge became increasingly congested,
water pollution created a serious problem.
Outbreaks of cholera and typhoid were traced to
the use of contaminated well water.
The city purchased the Water Company in 1865 to
create one of the first public water systems in
the country. The " Great Pond Rights, " which
dated back to 1647, were abolished. These rights
had guaranteed everyone the freedom to fish, boat,
bathe, or cut ice in any pond of 10 acres or more.
Later, even duck hunting was banned.
Things were getting out of hand — 8,000 people
would crowd around temporary beer tents by the
pond during summer picnics. Police would turn a "
blind eye " to anyone jumping in for a cool dip.
The slaughterhouse standing within 100 feet of the
shore didn’t help matters.
When Cambridge annexed the land around the pond
in 1880, all the buildings were taken down. City
engineers filled in coves and straightened the
shore. In 1924, the city Water Board allowed the
Park Commission to create Kingsley Park. Later, in
1934, wetlands were filled in for a public golf
Now, in winter snow, children slide down the
hill where the hotel once stood. Geese use the
pond as a resting place during migrations, and you
can usually spot birdwatchers scanning the trees.
Recently, an unknown donor placed a granite bench
beneath the pines facing Huron Avenue. Its
inscription, taken from Virginia Woolf’s novel, "
Orlando, " speaks of promised rest in a quiet
During early morning runs, rabbits scurry
across my path as birds call to the breaking dawn.
Each of us uses the pond in our own way, grateful
for this rural oasis hidden within a busy urban