Map of Wenham Lake, 1897, showing the now commuter rail.
|Location||Beverly / Wenham, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Basin countries||United States|
|Surface elevation||32 ft (9.8 m)|
Wenham Lake (224 acres) is a lake located in Wenham and Beverly, in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. In the 19th century the lake was famous for its ice, harvested and transported by ship throughout the world. It was reputed to be Queen Victoria's favorite. Today the lake is dedicated to being a water supply operated by the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board.
Wenham lake collects water from the water table and from a system of brooks leading from Beaver Pond, Norwood Pond and Longham Reservoir in the fields and woods to the east. These streams are controlled waterways. Drainage into the lake is through a pipe running under Route 1a in the vicinity of the public golf course to the north of the lake. To the west drainage enters the lake through deeply cut ravines in glacial features forested with hemlock and pine. These abut Beverly Airport.
The lake in the 21st century and its shores are not accessible to the general public. The facilities at the southern end are restricted by high fences kept under surveillance by cameras. The shores of the lake are posted against trespassing. Stands of evergreens left on the knolls surrounding the lake are privately owned. Due to increased isolation of the lake bed migratory birds typically seen only in Wenham Swamp a mile to the north now rest and feed in larger numbers in the lake.
Discovery of the lake
Although Native Americans probably lived around Wenham Lake before European settlements in 1635, no such traces have been found. The Agawams owned it as part of their tribal lands, which comprised all of eastern Essex County. Those lands were ceded to the English in a quitclaim deed by Chief Masconomet to John Winthrop the Younger as part of an amalgamation arrangement of what was left of the Agawam (decimated by disease) and the English colonists of Charlestown, Massachusetts.
The lake first appears in recorded history as Great Pond, part of Salem, Massachusetts. It was the site of the well-publicised murder of John Hoddy by John Williams. Hoddy's dog detained the murderer until his discovery and arrest.
In 1638, Hugh Peters, the Puritan minister of the First Church of Salem, delivered a sermon to a small group of settlers on its shore. His sermon turned upon "Enon, near Salem, because there was much water there," a biblical reference to John 3:23. The small village nearby was thus named Enon. (A stone with an engraved plaque off Route 1a marks the spot today.) It was officially recognized by the General Court of Massachusetts as a village of Salem on November 5, 1639. On May 10, 1643 it was incorporated as a distinct community and was renamed Wenham, after a group of towns in England. The lake then became Wenham Lake.
The fishing industry
In early colonial times, alewife fishing was an important part of the economy. All the ponds in the region were interconnected through swamps and streams. Wenham Lake was a major alewife spawning ground via an outlet that emptied into the Miles River, which in turn joins the Ipswich River after a drop in elevation of about 34 feet. Alewife harvests continued to be important until the 19th century, when dam construction on the Ipswich River and other streams ended the trade. Every drop of a few feet was tapped for water power via a mill dam and a mill. Today the outlet has long since been filled by the roadbed of Route 1A and the land appropriated for Lakeview Golf Course. Similarly all the ponds have been isolated or impounded for drinking water.
The ice industry
The transatlantic ice trade began in the 1840s, with the first ice cargo arriving in England in 1844 from Wenham Lake. The Landers family, owners of the lake's first ice house, constructed a railroad spur to help transport ice; one of its builders was Grenville Mullen Dodge, later to become famous as a Major General in the Union Army and central in the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The railroad is now the Beverly-Newburyport Commuter Rail Line. The roadbed of the spur is still visible directly behind the fifth hole at Lakeview Golf Course.
Ice was harvested as follows. A crew of 100 men and 30 to 40 horses was required. Only in temperatures below freezing, the crew waited for a foot of black ice to form. Snow was swept off and snow-ice was scraped off by horse-drawn vehicles if necessary. Then a horse-drawn cutting tool, the marker, scored a grid 2-3 inches deep forming 21-inch squares over 2-3 acres of ice. Men with saws cut along a line one direction while men with ice spades knocked the blocks free from the strip. Another crew with ice hooks drew the ice onto platforms over ramps. Full platforms were slid onto sledges for transport to ice houses on the shore. An ice house was built of pine walls filled with sawdust to the thickness of two feet. The blocks were packed in sawdust for transport, moved to the train in special wagons and brought directly to a wharf in Boston. They arrived within an hour of cutting with no loss. Transport to Britain by ship lost about a third of the ice.
The ice business continued until at least 1912, when John C. Kelleher founded Beverly Ice Company to harvest the lake's ice. Its end came shortly afterwards.
The water supply
Wenham Lake was set aside as a water reservoir for Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board (established 1913). Today Wenham Lake is integrated into the local water distribution system.
In 2001, the Wenham Lake Watershed Association discovered significant contamination of the lake from large deposits of fly ash dating from the 1950s and 1960s. These deposits totaled about 7,800 cubic yards, and were more than 3 feet deep in some locations. Their origin was the nearby Vitale dump, an abandoned gravel and sand quarry that had illegally stored refuse from coal burned at the Salem Harbor Power Generating Station. In subsequent years the lake has been dredged and is now monitored for its long-term health.
References and further reading
- Some fly ash will remain in Wenham Lake, Marc Fortier, Staff writer, Salem News, November 14, 2003.
- Phillips, John C., Wenham Great Pond, Salem Massachusetts: Peabody Museum, 1938.
- Smith, Philip Chadwick Foster, Crystal Blocks of Yankee Coldness: The Development of the Massachusetts Ice Trade from Frederick Tudor to Wenham Lake, Wenham Historical Association, 1962.
- Weightman, Gavin, The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story, Hyperion, 2004. ISBN 0-7868-8640-4.
- Allen, Myron O (1860). The History of Wenham: Civil and Ecclesiastical: from its Settlement in 1639, to 1860. Boston: Bazin & Chandler. pp. 24–25.
- Johnson Woodman, Abby (1908). Reminiscences of John Greenleaf Whittier's – Life at Oak Knoll – Danvers, Mass. The Essex Institute. p. 22. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
- Allen (1860), pages 17-21.
- author unknown (January 1853). "Wenham Lake Ice". Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country (London: John W. Parker and Son) 47: 110–113.