Typically, when Patrick Finnegan is joined by the Hika twins, age 12, and the Pratt twins, age 13, the day is one of leisure.
Finnegan serves as the adult supervisor for the four girls who lounge around the Round Lake Aqua Sport and Boat Club on Little Round Lake.
The girls swim, fish off a floating raft or take out a canoe and paddle around, but earlier this month they found themselves digging out a piece of history that had been buried underground for decades.
I was mowing the lawn and hit a tiny corner of it, said Finnegan. `I dug out a little bit and it looked like an axe head.`
The following day Finnegan returned to with Sasha and CayLee Hika and Catie and Alley Pratt. Using whatever was available — screwdrivers, spoons, a crowbar and rocks — the foursome dug for hours.
`We used our hands a lot,` said Sasha Hika. `We thought it was an axe. It took forever.`
After days of digging and unearthing most of what looked to be a steel paddle, Finnegan used his Subaru to pull the piece completely out of the ground. Finnegan, who admits he did not know what it was, believes they found an ice-harvesting tool. Found next to a tree, Finnegan believes the tool grew up with tree.
Noting that the club has owned the property since 1960, Finnegan said that documentation about previous owners is sketchy. Adjacent property owner, Joan Sweeney, remembers that two icehouses were on the property where the club now stands.
`I’m sure they’ll find more there,` said Sweeney. She believes other items may be discovered since at least one of the buildings was in such disrepair it eventually just fell down. Sweeney believes sediment and vegetation just grew over the buildings’ remnants. She recalls that the buildings had elevators and conveyer belts to assist with the movement of the blocks of ice that were cut from Little Round Lake.
The men who did this type of work were paid $1 a day for their labor, work that often was dangerous, she said.
Sweeney’s own father used to harvest ice for his family’s use as well as part of the commercial venture on the nearby property. In fact, a stone building remains on her property that was used to store blocks of ice.
Sweeney explained that the blocks of ice would be placed inside the small building and sawdust would be used as an insulator to keep the blocks of ice ready for use through until the summer months. Today, Sweeney uses the building as a storage shed.
The advent of electric freezers in the 1930s made ice harvesting obsolete. Although the Hika and Pratt twins are much too young to remember life without such conveniences, they were excited by the find nonetheless.
`It felt really good to get it out. We were yelling and jumping because we were excited,` said CayLee Hika.
The tool is shaped like a paddle and stands nearly five feet on end. Finnegan believes that it was used to wedge apart the ice after making the first cut.
The tool was part of the antique exhibit at the Saratoga County Fair.
`More people will get to see it that way. It is a slice of history that shouldn’t be forgotten,` he said.