Editor's note: A few weeks ago we featured an article on commercial ice houses. Today's article is about ice houses for family home and farm use.. The following text was originally published in September 1849 in the publication "The Genesee Farmer". Thanks to volunteer researcher George A. Thompson for finding, cataloging and transcribing this article. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
Construction of Ice-Houses
Ice is a cheap luxury in this country, and the Ice House very justly begins to be reckoned one of the necessary buildings on every complete farming establishment. Indeed it is indispensable to the proper preservation of the products of the Dairy and the Garden, as well as of meats, pastry, & c. It would be a gain to many a family, in one year, of what one that would answer every purpose would cost. We recommend the matter, at once, to the attention of our readers.
The following excellent suggestions on Ice Houses are extracted from the "Horticulturist":
To build an ice house in sandy or gravelly soils, is one of the easiest things in the world. The drainage there is perfect, the dry porous soil is of itself a sufficiently good non-conductor. All that it is necessary to do, is to dig a pit, twelve feet square, and as many deep, line it with logs or joists faced with boards, cover it with a simple roof on a level with the ground, and fill it with ice. Such ice houses built with a trifling cost, and entirely answering the purpose of affording ample supply for a large family, are common in various parts of the country.
But it often happens that one's residence is upon a strong loamy or clayey soil, based upon clay or slate, or, at least, rocky in its substratum. Such a soil is retentive of moisture, and even though it be well drained, the common ice house just described will not preserve ice half through the summer in a locality of that kind. The clayey or rocky soil is always damp – it is always an excellent conductor, and the ice melts in it in spite of the usual precautions.
Something more than the common ice house is therefore needed in all such soils. "How shall it be built?" is the question which has frequently been put to us lately.
We desired Mr. Wyeth's hints for building an ice house for family use, both above ground and below ground.
In the beginning, we should remark that the great ice houses of our ice companies are usually built above ground; and Mr. Wyeth in his letter to us remarks, "we now never build or use an ice house underground; it never preserves ice as well as those built above ground, and costs much more. I, however, send you directions for the construction of both kinds, with slight sketches in explanation." The following are Mr. Wyeth's directions for building:
"1st. An Ice House above ground. An ice house above ground should be built upon the plan of having a double partition, with the hollow space between filled with some non-conducting substance.
In the first place, the frame of the sides should be formed of two ranges of upright joists, 6 x 4 inches; the lower ends of the joists should be put into the ground without sill, which is apt to let air pass through. These two ranges of joists should be about two feet and one-half apart at the bottom, and two feet at the top. At the top these joists should be morticed into the cross-beams, which are to support the upper floor. The joists in the two ranges should be placed each opposite another. They should then be lined or faced on one side with rough boarding, which need not be very tight. This boarding should be nailed to those edges of the joists nearest each other, so that one range of joists shall be outside the building, and the other inside the ice room or vault.
The space between these boardings or partitions should be filled with wet tan, or sawdust, whichever is cheapest or most easily obtained. The reason for using wet material for filling this space is, that during winter it freezes, and until it is again thawed, little or no ice will melt at the sides of the vault.
The bottom of the ice vault should be filled about a foot deep with small blocks of wood; these are levelled and covered with wood shavings, over which a strong plank floor should be laid to receive the ice.
Upon the beams above the vault, a pretty tight floor should also be laid, and this floor should be covered several inches deep with dry tan or sawdust. The roof of the ice house should have considerable pitch, and the space between the upper floor and the roof should be ventilated by a lattice window at each gable end, or something equivalent, to pass out the warm air which will accumulate beneath the roof. A door must be provided in the side of the vault to fill and discharge it; but it should always be closed up higher than the ice, and when not in use should be kept closed altogether.
2d. An Ice House below ground. This his only thoroughly made by building up the sides of the it with a good brick or stone wall, laid in mortar. Inside of this wall set joists, and build a light wooden partition against which to place the ice. A good floor should be laid over the vault as just described, and this should also be covered with dry tan or sawdust. In this floor the door must be cut to give access to the ice.
As regards the bottom of the vault, the floor, the lattice windows in the gables for ventilation, etc., the same remarks will apply that have just been given for the ice house above ground, with the addition that in one of the gables, in this case, must be the door for filling the house with ice.
If the ground where ice houses of either kind are built, is not porous enough to let the melted ice drain away, then there should be a waste pipe to carry it off, which should be slightly ben, so as always to retain enough water in it to prevent the passage of air upwards into the ice house."
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One of the major industries along the upper Hudson River, prior to World War I, was the natural ice business. The ice, once it had reached a desired thickness of at least 12 inches, was cut, or harvested, and stored in huge double-walled wooden structures known as ice houses.
The invention and marketing of the home electric refrigerator quickly brought the industry to an end after World War I. Prior to this, almost every household would have had an ice box and used natural ice. Most of the ice for New York City came from the upper Hudson and was delivered to the market by special barges in long river tows.
Before World War I, the River would normally begin to freeze over by mid December, at which time all navigation on the River would cease. This was due to two factors. At that time, virtually all commercial vessels were made of wood and new ice would raise havoc with a wooden hull. Also, coal was the most common fuel used for heating and coal all virtually came into the area by railroad, eliminating the need to keep the river open in the winter.
During the warmer months of the year, a common sight in city residential areas was an ice wagon pulled by a horse delivering ice in quantities desired by the home owner.
In November, most of the horses owned by the ice companies would be taken to the steamboat piers and put on board the freight and passenger boats for transportation to the up-river ice houses. The steamers would stop at the ice house docks, and there a number of horses put ashore for later work on the ice, clearing snow, marking out the ice fields, pulling large pieces of ice through a cut channel to the ice house for storage, etc. The following spring, the process would be reversed and the horses returned to their summer employment of delivering the ice to the city dwellers.
Working on the ice was hard, back breaking, and cold wet work, the work day starting, during the harvest, at dawn and ending at dusk, six days a week. Most of the work, sawing the ice, pushing and pulling the ice cakes by long pike poles, and storing the ice inside the ice houses was pure manual labor. The pay was often but a $1.50 a day. It was not unusual at the peak of the ice harvest for the workers to strike for more money. The settlement would depend on how much ice was already in the ice house and the weather forecast- -since during a mild winter it was crucial to harvest the ice at the right point in time.
The electric refrigerator and artificial ice making brought the natural ice industry to an abrupt end. The large ice houses gradually passed from the scene. Some were torn down, others burned to the ground in impressive fires and a very few survived until World War II for the growing of mushrooms.
This article was written by Roger Mabie and originally published in the 2006 Pilot Log. Thank you to Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing the article.
Editor's Note: This article is from June 5, 1887 Washington Post.
Belledoni’s Latest Fad. New York Girls Now Make Trips In Canoes and Become Heroines.
Special Correspondence of The Post.
New York, June 3. – The canoe threatens to become femininely fashionable. A woman and a canoe – the two ought to go well together, for ever since there were women and canoes they have both had the reputation of being cranky.
“The fact of the matter is, the canoe has been slandered,” said a belle, in talking about canoing for women, “until it has got the reputation of being unsafe. That is what makes it popular among the more dashing of our girls.” She and her brother have made the trip up the Hudson to Albany and back, camping out on the way, and otherwise taking advantage of all the opportunities for roughing it.
“What did you wear? And what did you do with your clothes?” I asked. “You surely didn’t take Sunday bonnet along.”
“I wore a blue flannel dress made all in one piece, with a blouse waist, no drapery, the skirt reaching to the tops of a pair of extra high boots. It weighed a pound and a half. I wore a sailor hat and carried a light jacket, to be ready for changes of weather. Our canoe is rather small to be used as a tandem – it measures fourteen feet by thirty inches – so that one could not have taken much luggage if we had wished. All that we carried weighed only about thirty pounds, and of this our photographic materials, plates, camera, etc., weighed between fifteen and twenty pounds.”
“What did you do at night, sleep on the ground and cover with your canoe, or go to a hotel?”
“We started with the intention of camping out every night, but camping places between here and Albany are not numerous and we sometimes had to stop at a hotel. But we did camp out about two-thirds of the time. We carried a small tent – made of sheeting, so that it would be of less weight than one of canvas – a blanket apiece and a rubber blanket to spread on the ground. We had a tin pail apiece, and a tin cup, tin plate and a knife each, and a few other primitive and strictly necessary articles. Then we carried a few canned meats, but not much in that line, as we expected to be able to buy most of what we would want at our camping places. In that we were sometimes badly disappointed. One evening we camped near Esopus, tired and hungry after paddling all day, and walked over the hill to the country store to find something to eat. But all that was to be had was a loaf of baker’s bread and a bundle of wilted beets. On another occasion all that we could get was some bread and milk and green plums. But usually we fared reasonably well. Then the numerous ice houses along the Hudson and the ice barges constantly going up and down made it easy to keep a tin pail full of ice chips, which seemed quite a luxury.”
“You did not feel afraid tossing about in all that wind and water in such a tiny shell of a boat?”
“Not in the least. I knew the canoe, and I felt just as safe there as I would on dry land. If the persons in a canoe know how to handle it and are reasonably prudent in their actions there is absolutely no danger. If they only sit still in the bottom of the boat they can’t overturn it if they try. One day we went aboard a brick barge, and the astonishment the men who ran the big, clumsy thing showed over our tiny craft was quite amusing. They considered us miracles, of course, because we were willing to go on the water in such a cockle shell and were absolutely sure that we would be upset in less than half an hour. And as for me, they could hardly believe the evidence of their eyes that I had been aboard the canoe, and nothing could have convinced them that there was another woman on the face of the earth who would dare venture in on the water.”
So the belle in a canoe is something of a proud heroine. – Clara Belle
Thank you to HRMM volunteer George Thompson, retired New York University reference librarian, for sharing these glimpses into early life in the Hudson Valley. And to the dedicated HRMM volunteers who transcribe these articles.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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