“Fire and Ice” Days at Old Sturbridge Village Jan. 26-27

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Kids get free admission in January
Old fashioned ice harvesting and the history of ice skating
Sledding, sleigh rides, and fireside magic shows

(Sturbridge, MA) January 8, 2013 — Historians at Old Sturbridge Village will demonstrate harvesting one of early New England’s most important cash crops – ice – Saturday and Sunday Jan. 26-27 as part of the museum’s annual “Fire & Ice Days” celebration. In addition, OSV is offering free admission for children through Jan. 31 for kids age 17 and under (an $8 value per child; the offer does not apply to educational groups).

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 in the early 1800s before the days of mechanical refrigeration. Museum historians will also present “Of Ice and Men: a History of Skates and Skating,” and "Keeping Warm in Winter," a tour where guests can learn how 19th-century families adjusted to the coldest of seasons through heating devices, clothing, and different expectations from families of today.

OSV will also offer sleigh rides, sledding, and ice skating, (free with museum admission, weather permitting). Guests can warm up indoors with hot cider and enjoy Fireside Magic Shows with magician Robert Olson in character as famous 19th-century master magician Richard Potter (1783-1835). Indoor and outdoor activities will be ongoing throughout the day. Details: 800-SEE-1830, www.osv.org.

The ice industry created profits for New England farmers. “Ice harvesting was a great way for young men to earn extra money in the winter," notes OSV Curator Tom Kelleher. “And in the summer, ice allowed farmers to cool cream, make profitable butter, and carry milk to the cities – even on hot days.”

Kelleher also notes 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, Mass. 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, Connecticut, 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. (Learn more about the history of ice skating).

With more than 40 restored buildings – farmhouses, mills, meetinghouses, and craft shops – on more than 200 acres of fields and woods, Old Sturbridge Village is one of the country's oldest and largest living history museums and celebrates early New England life from 1790-1840.

Located just off the Massachusetts Turnpike and Routes I-84 and 20 in Sturbridge, Mass., Old Sturbridge Village is open year-round, but hours vary seasonally. Winter hours are Wed.-Sun. 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (the Village is open on all Monday holidays); Children age 17 and under receive free admission through Jan. 31, 2013. Normal admission is: $24 for adults; $22 for seniors; $8 for children ages 3-17; children 2 and under are admitted free. Each admission includes a free second-day visit within 10 days. For details, visit www.osv.org or call 800-SEE-1830.

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Did you know?

  • If insulated, ice could survive the 16,000-mile, 130-day trip from Boston to Bombay.
  • Chicagoans saw their first lobster in 1842, shipped from the East Coast.
  • The first shipment of ice to England melted because customs officials couldn’t decide how to classify the 300-ton cargo of ice.
  • Ship owners were at first reluctant to carry ice for fear it would melt in the holds of their ships and sink them.
  • Sawdust, previously a worthless byproduct of sawmills, proved to be an excellent insulator for ice, and provided extra income for lumber mills.

Excerpted from "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson

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