Hometown History: Parker’s Pond — Port Jefferson’s crystal treasure

Hometown History: Parker’s Pond — Port Jefferson’s crystal treasure

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Lester H. Davis’ Ice Plant was located along the waterfront on the north side of East Broadway. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Parker’s Pond was an artificial body of water located in Port Jefferson, west of Main Street, directly across from today’s First United Methodist Church.

Long filled in, the man-made pond was created by stonecutter Andrew J. Parker, who in 1861 — along with his wife and children — settled in Port Jefferson where the opening of Cedar Hill Cemetery two years earlier had brought job opportunities for tombstone sculptors.

In 1865, Parker bought a house and meadow land at the foot of Port Jefferson’s Spring Street and established a marble works on the site.

Not just a stonecutter, Parker was also a blacksmith skilled in building ploughs for harvesting ice.

Parker’s Pond, also known as Crystal Lake, was located west of Main Street, directly across from today’s First United Methodist Church. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Natural ice was a valuable commodity during the 19th century. Collected in winter from frozen ponds, lakes and rivers, the crystal treasure was stored in icehouses until the warmer months. The ice was then sold and used in domestic and commercial settings to preserve food, cool drinks and prepare ice cream.

In 1869, Parker presaged his entry into the lucrative ice trade by purchasing Port Jefferson meadow land neighboring his business and cobbling together the separate parcels into one large tract.

A stream originated in the hills above Parker’s newly acquired property, ran north through his land, flowed into Port Jefferson’s salt meadows, joined the village’s Old Mill Creek, and discharged into Port Jefferson Harbor.

Parker created a pond by damming the stream as it crossed his property, first clearing the land and then in partnership with Josiah Randall building an icehouse to serve the site.

In winter 1873, ice was first harvested from the pond by Parker’s Crystal Lake Ice Company, the names Parker’s Pond and Crystal Lake soon becoming synonymous.

Over the years, the pond and its icehouse were leased to various parties who cut the ice and stored the crop. In 1881, Crystal Lake reportedly yielded 600 tons of quality ice.

In 1891, directing his energy to the temperance movement, Parker sold his two-acre pond to investor John Davis.

Davis leased the pond in 1893 to the Nassau Trout Association. The freshwater anglers stocked Crystal Lake with fry but abandoned the venture in 1894. 

In 1901, butcher Lester Davis opened an ice plant on the north side of Port Jefferson’s East Broadway, effectively ending natural ice harvesting at Crystal Lake. At Davis’ factory, artificial ice was manufactured year-round, unaffected by the vagaries of weather and safer than the products of suspect waters. 

While Port Jefferson moved from old to modern technology, idyllic Crystal Lake remained a popular attraction among skaters. On some winter days, upwards of 100 people glided along on the frozen pond.

A scenic landmark in Port Jefferson, but no longer important to the ice trade, the pond as well as Parker’s former home were sold in 1910 to Fred Griswold, who also purchased Athena Hall (Theatre Three) in a separate transaction.

In 1911, Griswold’s North Shore Electric Light and Power Company reclaimed ground from Parker’s Pond and built a powerhouse on what is now Maple Place.

The landscape surrounding Crystal Lake continued to change as other structures rose near its waters. In 1927, the Port Jefferson Fire Department laid a cornerstone for its new station north of the pond on Maple Place.

In 1930, Griswold began showing “talkies” at the Port Jefferson Theatre, formerly Athena Hall, which he remodeled to seat 600 people. Griswold also provided free parking at the cinema, where patronage had increased following the introduction of movies with sound.

Lester H. Davis’ Ice Plant was located along the waterfront on the north side of East Broadway. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The parking lot was entered from Maple Place, could handle 200 cars, and made by dewatering Parker’s Pond and covering its exposed bed with cinders. As the dumping of fill continued, evidence of the former pond gradually disappeared.

Located in a declivity, Griswold’s parking field was subject to storm water runoff, but the construction of a box culvert in 1934 channeled the area’s surface waters and eased the situation. 

In a village bedeviled by inadequate public parking, the theatre’s lot was eyed as a prime location for a municipal parking field.

In 1961, a local committee proposed the creation of a Port Jefferson Parking District, which would have entailed the building of a parking lot at what was once historic Parker’s Pond. Facing spirited opposition from villagers, the scheme was abandoned.

In September 1980, New York State’s Department of Transportation presented a proposal to build a parking field at the former Crystal Lake site.

Spokesmen for the Port Jefferson Fire Department argued that blacktopping and elevating the property would cause flooding at the firehouse on Maple Place.

Although the State later scrapped its plan, the Port Jefferson Fire Department bought the parcel, thus insuring the Department’s stewardship of the lot. Landscaped and seeded, the acreage is now used by the village’s volunteer firemen for training and recreation.

While there is no marker indicating that the site was formerly an ice pond, fish farm, skating rink, scenic landmark, and parking field, the soggy feel underfoot hints of earlier times.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.


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