Skating on the lake
Although there are stories of various ice rinks around town, both indoor and outdoor, people have often taken advantage of the nature ice provided by the lake.
With comments suggesting that this is a “once in a 100 year” phenomenon, we thought we would share some stories and pictures of people enjoying the ice in the past.
As early as the Civil War, there are reports of youngsters anxiously waiting for the ice to form on the lake so they could go ice skating. Parties would form at Lighthouse Point to skate to Presque Isle. This was in the days before the road to the Island was built, making the trip more of an adventure.
A newspaper in the early 1870s noted that the skaters made use of an abandoned cabin as a shelter for their picnics. The cabin had been built by the Whittlesey family in the possibly somewhere in the vicinity of the gazebo or up on the bluff near Charlie and Charlotte Kawbawgam’s graves.
There were also reports of skating in the harbor during this time frame, including several winters where young men held horse races on the ice.
In cold winters when the lake froze a mile or two out, skaters reportedly were known to skate as far as Houghton and Munising. Certainly, cutters and sleighs were used to haul mail and wood along the ice.
Later accounts state that when the snow was heavy, the driver of the city plow could occasionally be talked into plowing a figure-eight on the harbor ice, near the shore, which could be expanded by individuals who were willing to shove.
By the early 1910s, the Cinder Pond, where the Spear Coal Dock and later Mattson Park would be built, became a popular spot for skating. The Cinder Pond was almost entirely landlocked and maintained by the city, who would over saw plowing and flooding of the ice.
An item in a January 1913 newspaper talked of the mayor’s orders for the city plows to clear a rink on the harbor for a hockey game between Marquette and Negaunee.
In 1916, the city built a small shack with a stove as a warming house. Later changing rooms for both men and women were also added. In January 1921, up to 2,000 people skated at the Cinder Pont, probably on the same day these pictures were taken.
The large crowds required a policeman be present, especially on weekends, due to rowdy skaters speeding around the ice creating havoc for other skaters, along with littering gum and candy wrappers on the ice.
Not long after this, the Palestra was moved to Marquette and skating shifted from the Cinder Pond to the indoor rink.