Throwback Thursday – Wintertime in Montauk

Cutting ice on Tuthill Pond, 1930. Perry B. Duryea Collection | Montauk Library Archives

Nothing like a hearty breakfast before harvesting ice on a winter’s day. Eugene Beckwith Sr. recalled that the bosses fed the men quite generously before they set off to work in the 1930s.

“Oh, gosh, they had pancakes and sausage and pork chops,” he recalled in a 1969 oral history interview. “I eat one pork chop for a meal now. I used to eat about four or five of them.”

EB Tuthill, Jake Wells, and other fishmongers needed ice extracted from Fort and Tuthill ponds to refrigerate the catch coming into the fishing village on Fort Pond Bay. In the 1930s the ice in Montauk could freeze more than six to eight inches thick, at which point it was ripe for harvest. Using horses with cork on their feet to prevent them from slipping, workers sawed ice from the ponds into blocks weighing as much as 300 pounds. After they were stacked in storage houses and insulated with straw, the slowly-shrinking slabs might last through the following summer.

Winter in Montauk has looked both different and the same over time, as one of the current slideshows in the library’s Local History Exhibit Center demonstrates. The collaborative display, Wintertime in Montauk, combines photographs from the archives – like this one from the Perry B. Duryea Collection – with contributions from members of the community. After issuing an open call for photographs of Montauk in the winter, the library received more than 90 submissions from 29 patrons. Whether historical or recent, most of the photographs capture some aspect of Montauk’s quiet but rugged allure in the “off” season.

On the flip side is a slideshow featuring more than 30 sociable summers enjoyed by the Mead family in Montauk. Four sisters – many are known by their married names, Nancy Neff, Pat Smyth, Judy Ceslow, and Dolly Bistrian – traveled from Queens with their parents to camp at Hither Hills State Park and Ditch Plains beginning in the 1930s. The Mead family may have roughed it a little, but it’s clear they had a good time and picked up a bunch of friends along the way.

Another family – the Osbornes – is represented in the Local History Center through a series of intimate home movies from the 1930s to 1940s. Donated to the library by Eleanor Osborne Ratsep, the footage shows family members water skiing, clamming, camping, and sailing as well as scenes of the old fishing village and the lighthouse during that era.

Focused on local history, the library’s Throwback Thursday blogs (like this one!) are highlighted in yet another slideshow, which offers a larger look at visual materials from the library’s archives. Visitors can scan a QR code to read the full original versions of the blog posts.

Also in the current lineup is a slideshow that showcases vintage community cookbooks. Community cookbooks are often filled with quirky illustrations, recipes, tips, and similar goodies, and those in the library’s archival, reference, and circulating departments – from which the photographs are drawn — are no exception.

And who isn’t drawn to Camp Hero, the sprawling former coastal defense station turned state park, with its radar tower and almost 80-year history? One slideshow draws from the archives to document the intriguing evolution of Camp Hero over time.

Finally, a slideshow that pays tribute to the Montauk Fire Department – and accompanies a related display – continues to loop in the Local History Center. And then there are the “Voices in Time” – photographic portraits of longtime Montauk residents, like Gene Beckwith Sr., that link to oral histories like the one in which he talks about ice harvesting, as well as big breakfasts.

#MontaukLibrary #MontaukHistory #DitchPlains #TBT #ThrowbackThursday #LocalHistory #Montauk #IceCutting

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