Bring the Family

The history of Jamaica Pond runs deep

Janice Page/Globe Staff

WHO: Globe staff member Janice Page, daughter Zoe (age 9), sister Carol Ostrum.

WHERE: Jamaica Plain.

WHAT: Historic walking tour of Jamaica Pond.


As many times as we’ve walked or run around Jamaica Pond, not once has our family stopped to consider the pond’s place in history. That’s bad enough. But it turns out that we’ve also been ignoring the history of ice. The History of Ice! This was not what we expected to learn about when we assembled at the pond’s boathouse pavilion on a muggy August Saturday morning for a walking tour led by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

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Falling in behind our guide, JPHS president Michael Reiskind, we began a counterclockwise 1.5-mile trek around the pond. Reiskind is an encyclopedia of area knowledge, and what little information he doesn’t have in his head, he carries in a fat folder that can tell you, for example, the legal definition of a “great pond.” As we walked we discussed everything from pond wildlife and Frederick Law Olmsted trivia to local politics and Boston Brahmins. And we stopped a lot, so that Reiskind could point out nearby historic homes (with past owners named Curley, Cabot, Sargent, etc.) and the scars of landmarks now gone (including the once magnificent Perkins family estate known as Pinebank).

Whenever the talk didn’t hold their interest, the kids veered off to look for snapping turtles or explore one of the many grassy bowls that dip invitingly into the landscape here. Then they’d rejoin to ask a question. (“How deep does the pond get?” Fifty five feet.) And on we’d go.

A highlight for the children was playing in and on sculptor Matthew Hincman’s guerrilla installation of an upturned park bench, which resembles a wooden bathtub and always draws smiles, except from officials who have sought to remove it over the years.

And the whole family was engaged when we hopped a guardrail to cross the street and explore what Reiskind calls the “unknown part of Jamaica Pond Park.” He’s right. We’d always wondered about the beautiful Francis Parkman monument that sits on the site of this historian’s former home, but we never knew it was designed by Daniel Chester French, whose best-known work sits in the Abraham Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C.


And then there was the ice. We were amazed to learn that the global ice market started here in the early 1800s, when Frederic Tudor harvested blocks of frozen water that sailed off in cork-lined ships to customers as far away as India. Reiskind tells the fascinating story with the aid of vintage photographs — one shows the pond surface scored to resemble a crazy life-size game of Don’t Break the Ice. At the end of the day, that image was so cool it even trumped hunting for snapping turtles.

Historic walking tours of Jamaica Pond take place periodically on Saturdays and run 60-90 minutes. The next scheduled event is Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. Admission is free. See
. Janice Page can be reached at