Nashoba Brook History

Ice House Pond today

Nashoba Brook played an important role in the early industries of the towns of Acton and Concord. It powered a number of mills, one of which was a pencil factory located in the present-day Nashoba Brook Conservation Area. To learn more about this and other early pencil factories, link to the Acton Conservation Land website or visit the informational kiosk located at the site of the factory in the conservation land. At the northern end of the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area is the site of another old mill, the dam for which created Robbins Mill Pond.

Ice House Pond
Tom Tidman, Conservation Administrator for Acton in 1993, compiled this history of Ice House Pond:
"The first damming of Nashoba Brook in East Acton was performed in 1669 by Captain Thomas Wheeler. Wheeler was Acton's first settler and was granted a tract of land by Concord for the dual use of setting up a cattle grazing area and gristmill. Wheeler's mill was only "two logs high" according to historical accounts and was located along the present railroad tracks adjacent to Great Road on the eastern end of what is now the Bursaw Oil property. [These railroad tracks were part of the Framingham and Lowell Railroad and have now fallen into disuse.] The Wheeler Dam was replaced and enlarged in 1840 by Daniel Wetherbee, who ran a flour and grain mill. Wetherbee's mill was fed by a canal, which has since been filled, rather than by Nashoba Brook.

"The impoundment known as Ice House Pond was created in 1797 by the damming of Nashoba Brook for a sawmill by Captain Joseph Robbins…Obviously the creation of the pond was not the intention of Capt. Robbins, but rather a result of the damming of the brook. It is not clear that any active use of the pond was made at this time.

"The use of the pond for harvesting of ice appears to have begun in 1886 by the Mason Ice Company. Mason operated until 1921 when the operation was sold to John Forbes and William Grace who started the Concord Ice Company. Forbes and Grace operated until 1947, when they sold the Concord Ice Company to Everett Dillman. Dillman's success was short lived due to the increasing availability of home refrigerators after World War II; according to Acton lore, the harvesting of ice ceased in the middle or late 1950's. Mr. Dillman sold the 7 acre pond and an acre and a half of land to the Town in 1980. Those who remember the activities of Ice House Pond recall that the pond was drained in spring and hay was cut and collected each summer in order to keep the ice clean.

"Harvesting of ice generally began whenever the ice reached a depth of 20 inches. Floats of ice would be cut and led to shore where the floats were cut into smaller blocks, sent up a conveyor belt and into the Ice House, which stood adjacent to the parking lot. The blocks, three to four feet long and twenty inches thick, were stored in the seven room Ice House. Hay was placed between the blocks and was placed over the stacks of ice to prevent it from melting. It appears that several harvests of ice were made each winter.

"The site will probably be known forever as Ice House Pond, although ice was a money maker at the site for only 70 years or so. It was, however, and important business site for the area and will be, hopefully, an important recreation area for the future."

For more information about ice harvesting, see the historical information for Elizabeth Brook.

Warner's Pond
Marian Wheeler compiled this history of the Warner's Pond dam site:
"This site dates back to the 1700s and before. Edward Wright built a dam on Nashoba Brook in order to operate a saw mill, and later a fulling mill. This was where the Warner's Pond dam is today, near the fork of Commonwealth Avenue and Lawsbrook Road. Wright also built the first bridge over Nashoba Brook.

"In 1819 David Loring of Concord, N.H. bought the water rights and established a lead pipe company on this site. In 1831 he added a sheet lead business, which produced over 300,000 pounds of sheet lead annually. His trademark was his team of six white horses proudly hauling his goods through town.

"Loring was eventually forced out of business by competitors with more modern methods of production. He then turned to crafting wooden ware (bowls, buckets, pails, etc.). In 1857, he sold out to Ralph Warner, who continued the business as the Warner Pail Factory…

"[Warner] raised the dam on Nashoba Brook in order to obtain more water power, thus creating Warner's Pond as we know it today. For the next 60 years the Pail Factory thrived, but in 1895 it burned to the ground. Warner then provided work for his employees building houses on Winthrop, Pine and Highland Streets…

"During the "Gay Nineties" [Warner's Pond] became a summer recreation spot where townspeople and prisoners from the Reformatory were allowed to swim. It was called "the Grove," and offered a picnic area, playground, swimming beach, and boat rides. The Union Church had their Annual Outing there. A bridge was built across to the Isle of Pines. This was later called "Boy Scout Island," where the boys would have their encampments. Sometimes cows were pastured there during the summer, and in the winter there were skating parties and ice-cutting. The Ice Houses, which stood at the Reformatory end of the pond, burned down in 1890."

Ralph Warner appears to have had an inflated sense of self-importance, although not without reason, as he did own one of the two dominant industries in Concord and also served the community by providing space in his building for the meetings of social and religious groups. When he gave land for the West Concord School built in 1886, he proposed that the street running by it be named after him, but the name "Church Street" was chosen at the 1894 town meeting instead. Warner also gave part of his building on Commonwealth Avenue for the post office. He wanted the post office and the whole surrounding area to be called "Warnerville," but in 1891, despite Warner's protests, petitioners succeeded in naming the post office and the railroad station "Concord Junction."

Concord Junction is now officially just part of Concord, but it is still usually referred to as West Concord, the name it was given in 1928. Most of the property around Warner's Pond, the only enduring namesake of Ralph Warner, is now privately owned or inaccessible, but there is still public access to a boat launch area.

Garrelick, Renee. Clothier of the Assabet: The Mill and Town of Edward Carver Damon. Privately Published, 1988.

Klauer, William A. Images of America: Acton. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Tidman, Tom. Ice House Pond Report. Report prepared for the Acton Conservation Commission. Available in the Acton Collection at the Acton Memorial Library.

Wheeler, Marian H. A Guided Walking Tour of West Concord. Booklet prepared for the Concord Historical Commission.

Researched and written for OAR by Joanna Solins.