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Holderness Central students get a first-hand look at a New England tradition

Victor and Russell Pildes of Chicago and Boston made a special trip to Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in Holderness to help with this year's ice harvest. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
January 23, 2019
HOLDERNESS Each winter, when many residents huddle inside to stay warm, the die-hard volunteers who make up the Rockywold-Deephaven Camp ice harvest crew head out onto Squam Lake to cut and store ice for the upcoming summer. The camp's rustic cabins are equipped with old-fashioned ice boxes to preserve food for their guests; therefore, it takes three days to harvest 3,000 or more cakes of ice.

Some years the crew harvests down the road from the camp on Squaw Cove but this year conditions were perfect right off the property's shoreline in Deephaven.

An age-old tradition, RDC is one of the last remaining ice harvests in the state, and each year, many locals and tourists alike join them on the ice to watch. Some even pitch in by coaxing the blocks along a narrow watery channel to the loading platform. From there the blocks are stacked in trucks and driven to the icehouses.

This year, the third and fourth grade students from Holderness Central School took a trip out to the lake on Thursday so they could learn more about the process. Their guide for the trip was Jane Kellogg, a retired fourth grade teacher from the school who now volunteers at RDC.

Principal William VanBennekum said Kellogg used to bring her class out to the ice harvest every year but that practice stopped after her retirement, which was before he came to the school.

"Our third graders study the local community in Social Studies and the fourth graders study New Hampshire so this event coincides with the community-based curriculum," he said. "This is unique, and it's right here in Holderness. The parents really supported it so I think we're going to continue to stay with the ice harvest every winter."

The boys and girls were excited to watch as volunteers scraped snow from the icy surface, then by using a large saw, cut the "field" of ice they cleared into a grid. The blocks, which were 13-inches thick and measured 14x18-inches in diameter, were then broken apart and floated to the loading deck. After watching the trucks fill up Kellogg led them back to the icehouse to see how the blocks were stacked and covered with sawdust to preserve them in the warmer months.

"This is cool," was the most commonly heard comment from the students. One, however, said he would like to come back when he was older to help with the harvest and another thought cutting blocks of ice from the lake was a great idea for people who don't have refrigerators.

The students weren't the only visitors that day however. Victor and Russell Pildes made a special trip to Holderness so they could volunteer for the harvest. Victor lives in Chicago, and his son Russell has moved to Boston but the family spent many summers at RDC where the ice always kept their food cold during their vacations.

"When winter started I called my dad and said 'Know what's coming up? It doesn't take long to get there from here.' He thought it was a great idea so he flew in to Boston and here we are for the day," said Russell.

The two helped by using long wooden pikes to push the blocks to the loading deck and didn't mind the temperatures at all.

"I'm from Chicago! It's nice out here," joked his dad. "Hey, we'd do anything for this camp. You feel like you're part of the family when you've spent as many years here as we have."

Garnet Hill
Martin Lord Osman
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