The Duck Pond: A Short History

On a cold winter’s day decades ago, children, their parents, and college students could be seen playing hockey, cutting broad figure eights across the ice, and invariably falling over and skidding across the surface of the iconic Haverford College Duck Pond. Later, they would go into the shack by the bank and melt the ice of their skates in an oil drum of hot water or drink a mug of hot chocolate, all for only a quarter.

You are unlikely to see anyone skating this winter, though, and not many have been seen skating here since the 1960s. The skating days of the Duck Pond are long gone, stuck somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century.

The Duck Pond wasn’t established as a skating rink, or even as a pond. In the 1800s, the Duck Pond was little more than a few soggy acres–a seasonal marshland.  Sometimes it was a pond, other times it was a ground for grazing cattle.

Skating was a popular winter pastime for many Haverford students, who would walk as far as the iced-over Schuylkill to skate. Given the popularity, plans were made to improve the skating conditions at Haverford. The Campus Club, led by Dan Smiley, Jr., ’30 orchestrated the construction of a dam, the improvement of the embankments, and the addition of the skate house.

Photo by Ben Horwitz '17

Photo by Ben Horwitz ’17

By 1931, the Duck Pond was a year-round attraction. In the 1940’s, the skate house was built. The skate house replaced the shack, which was considered an “eyesore.” Thomas McConnell ‘19 donated the money for the skate house in memory of his deceased daughter Barbara, who loved to ice-skate at Haverford.

The iced-over pond was also home to the Barclay Bobsled team, of which Rufus Jones was a member. When the ice was thick enough, groups of students would marshall outside the dorms in matching hats, scarves, and gloves, with different colors for each team. Here they would build ramps and sled down Barclay Beach, across the pond and up to Lancaster Avenue.

However, Duck Pond ice skating is no longer permitted at Haverford. When Philadelphia decided to switch from using cinders to salt on the road during the winter months, an increased amount of salty runoff made its way into the pond. This, coupled with the springs under the pond, makes for inconsistent, soft ice that is dangerous for skating.

Though the Duck Pond’s ice skating era has long since ended, there are many new projects in the works. The exposed steel rods that form a framework to protect new plants must be capped, as they’re currently a safety hazard, but also a necessary evil. Due to foot traffic, ecology, and the desire to make the pond an attractive part of the campus, there are several programs in place to add more vegetation to the banks.

Native plants, as well as a Pennsylvania Master Gardener-approved pollinator have been added to the garden by the skate house. Unfortunately, these new plants are still young and very vulnerable, especially to the geese, who will either eat or trample them. The newly installed rebar gives the plants a chance to get established.

Maintenance of the Pond is a full time job. With the Duck Pond’s high visibility, there are constant challenges. From aggressive geese to eroding banks, Facilities has a full plate. However, unlike the Duck Pond of decades past, they don’t have to worry about the errant ice skater sneaking on without paying.

 

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