Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Squannacook Junction and Nissitissit Ice

This past Sunday morning it was just a spot on a map that for some reason I decided to experience first hand.  Specifically it's the spot in Groton, Massachusetts where freight trains carrying ice cut from Muscatanipus Pond in Brookline, New Hampshire would have left the Brookline and Pepperell Branch and passed onto the Fitchburg Railroad's Peterborough and Shirley Branch en route to Ayer Junction.  At Ayer the trains would head east on the Fitchburg Division main line to the Fresh Pond Ice Company's terminal in Somerville, Ma.
According to the Cambridge Chronicle's 1905 Industrial and Building Edition the company used a dedicated fleet of 75 freight cars, each car capable of carrying approximately 25 tons of ice.  Twenty freight cars were loaded each day during the summer months and the train would travel by night to Somerville where the ice blocks would be transloaded from the rail cars so that 50 horse-drawn wagons such as this could then ply the streets of Cambridge and Somerville the following morning.
  
Squannacook Junction served trains from 1892 until it was discontinued in 1942.  However, before it could be discontinued the Boston and Maine Railroad needed to build a bridge across the Nashua River in Pepperell in order to serve the mills on the west side of the river previously accessed via the Brookline and Pepperell Branch.  The ice trains had stopped running in the late 1930s.  Much of the roadbed between Squannacook Junction and Brookline, NH remains today, although the rails and crossties were removed during World war II.

At any rate, Squannacook Junction not only served to connect train tracks, but also connected some great sounding Native American place names such as Squannacook River, Squannacook Hill, Nashua River, Nissitissit River, Muscatanipus Pond, and Muscatanipus Hill.

So, in honor of the recent good news concerning the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe finally getting approval from the federal government to place some of their land into a trust, I figured paddling up the Squannacook River to the junction might be a good idea on, yet another, beautiful Sunday morning. 

This is the view entering the Squannacook from the Nashua River...
... and should have reminded me of how many blowdowns would likely block my path.  I'd only made it about a half mile in when these 2 beaver dams discouraged further upstream progress...

Upon turning about I saw one of the few remaining Cardinal flowers of the season...
...and also observed one large snapping turtle laying on the river bottom with his sizable tail and hind quarters catching my eye...

Back where the river passes close to the Peterborough and Shirley Branch I exited my boat and headed west along the abandoned tracks...
Though several trails within the Groton Town Forest were encountered interjecting with the railbed, I found no trace of Squannacook Junction and returned to the river.

Later, after studying the topo maps more closely, I drove to West Groton and hiked down the Peterborough and Shirley Branch about half a mile to where I finally came upon Squannacook Junction...
In the above photo the still (barely) intact Peterborough and Shirley is running east (right) to west (left) while the Brookline and Pepperell Branch disappears in the woods at center (sans rails and cross-ties).
From this spot the line ran 13.86 miles in northward direction following the Nashua and Nissitissit rivers to Muscatanipus Pond (aka  Lake Potanipo)...


Yesterday, intrigued to explore the place where the ice originated, I drove to Muscatanipus Pond in Brookline, NH known these days as Potanipo Lake...

Though the name has been altered and shortened it should be noted that in Edward E. Parker's 1906 History of Brookline, formerly Raby, Hillsborough County New Hampshire  it is explained that Muscatanipus is the original and correct name.  Parker states the name means "Great Bear Pond".

In the earlier mentioned Cambridge Chronicle 1905 article the pond and its waters are described thus: "Situated among the rocks and woodlands of the Old Granite State, about sixty-five miles from Boston, is the little town of Brookline, secluded, peaceful, and picturesque.  About a mile north of the village, some ninety feet above its level, half hidden by primeval forests and granite hills, lies a lake, the source of the Nissitissit river.  The lake, itself fed by two mountain streams and innumerable crystal springs, gets its name from the Indians, who pleased with the clearness and purity of its waters, called it in their language, Muscatanapus - The Great Mirror.....The company has the reputation of cutting the purest ice in the country and this fact is admitted by experts who have analyzed and scientifically examined it.  The appearance of the ice-its delicate blue tinge and great transparency indicate the purity it possesses."  
Sounds similar to today's advertisements for 'mountain spring' bottled water.


 I launched very close to where the Nissitissit River flows out of the 250 acre pond...

The Brookline and Pepperell branch crossed the Nissitissit just before reaching the pond at the spot where this pedestrian covered bridge stands today (on the old railroad bridge supports)...
The bridge is located just across Mason Rd from the boat launch.

Paddling away from the launch one sees quite a cluster of white wooden buildings along the eastern shore.  This is where there once stood what some claim to have been the largest ice storage facility (under one roof) in the world, The Fresh Pond Ice Co...
The above photo is posted on a kiosk by the covered bridge.  Also posted is this description of the ice house...

The Brookline, NH Historical Society's website has some great old photos of the ice trade and the railroad.



Traveling to the pond's north side I looked back towards Muscatanipus Hill...
...before entering a very scenic tributary entering the pond from the north.  Greeting entrants is this mid-channel rock loaded with character...
Beyond the rock is this beaver dam...
...which if surmounted allows another half mile of the stream to be explored...

Returning to the pond I noted my first fall foliage...
...appropriately enough on the last full day of summer.

I thought I heard this heron shout "hey iceman"...

Before leaving the pond I pulled these 2 old half-pint milk bottles from the shallows near where the ice house was located...
Both were from the 1940s and about 10 years after the ice house had burned down.  The bottles probably were related to Camp Tevya which was built in 1940 on the land where the ice house stood.

The diminutive bottles reminded me of how the term "Half Pint" came to be used in describing folks vertically challenged.
Another term  "blockhead" and can best be explained by this.

Leaving the area I drove past this well preserved remnant of the Brookline and Pepperell branch...
The Brookline Station is a private residence today and sits just down the road from Muscatanipus Pond.


Trash recovered from the Nashua and Squannacook on Sunday...

Trash recovered from Muscatanipus Pond yesterday...

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