Fire & Ice on Silver Lake
Myrtle Bradford Higgins was my grandmother and she was an old Yankee with a distinctively ‘down-east’ accent. She ran a General Store at the end of Grove Street and was the last postmistress of the Silver Lake Post Office. She lived and breathed history. To hear her talk, the Civil War ended last month and the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock a little over a year ago.
Her house was filled with bits and pieces of history. She collected arrowheads by the bucket full and had Pilgrim memorabilia scattered in every room. She was a member of the Mayflower Society and knew the family names of every Pilgrim who made the voyage in 1620. She was also a world class story teller and it didn’t take too much to get her started.
As a young girl she had known old men who had served in the Grand Army of the Republic and fought for the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg. Often she would recall how Kingston boys had gone south to fight ‘those derned CORNfederates’ and how terrible the war had been. She would share letters written by her Grandmother which discussed at length the election of Lincoln and the likelihood of war. In the next breath she would tell the story of the day the steamship ‘Lady of the Lake’ blew-up and sank on Silver Lake.
While I was a child I had absolutely no sense of time. History was a mishmash of overlapping events which more or less happened ‘yesterday” or a few years ago and everything was connected to Kingston. As a kid it seemed like Silver Lake and Kingston sat at the crossroads of history.
On one wall of her home hung a huge yellowing parchment scroll. At the Paris Expo of 1900 it had been presented to my Great Grandfather by the King of Sweden to honor his part in establishing the first Cooperative Store in North America.
Twice burned and twice rebuilt, it became the Silver Lake post office and general store. It also installed a profound fear of fire in my family.
She used to take me for walks along the shores of Silver Lake and point out the foundation stones of the great icehouses, which dotted the end of the lake near the rail line.
Ice from Kingston’s Silver Lake even cooled the drinks of British Viceroys in far away India.
Back in the 1850’s (before electricity and refrigeration) ice was harvested from the lake during the winter and packed in sawdust and stored in insulated icehouses. From Kingston the ice was transported by train to docks in Boston and Plymouth and then shipped all over the world.
They even changed the name of Jones River Pond to its present name, Silver Lake as a marketing ploy to enhance the sale of ice. (It didn’t work very well – the company went out of business but the lake’s name lives on.)
Kingston ice cooled the drinks of British Viceroys in far away India. Sawdust may be a great insulator but was as fireproof as gasoline. One stray spark was all it took. Most old ice houses met their end in a blaze of glory.