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Ice House - $4.95

The small farm buildings used to store ice through the summer can usually be recognized by their thick insulated walls and few windows. Early examples have low ventilators on the roof.

New England Ice House

New England Farmer's Ice House

licehouse ice house new england storage download cardmodel paper model cardstock history info information The use of ice for refrigeration became popular in New England by the middle of the nineteenth century, especially as farmers shifted to dairy production.


The small farm buildings used to store ice through the summer can usually be recognized by their thick insulated walls and few windows. Early examples have low ventilators on the roof.

Often located under evergreen trees or other shady locations, many icehouses have a small entry room lit by a small window and an insulated room, connected by air ducts to the ice storage space, for storing dairy products and meats.


Occasionally, brick or stone-walled ice houses where built into a bank of earth with an entrance facing the north.


New England Icehouse History



icehouse new england farm farmers



The Cultivator offered this advice in 1864:

A cheap Ice-House may be quickly constructed, in the form of board shanties, with a good but not tight floor. Place a few inches of sawdust on the floor, pile up the ice compactly in square blocks, leaving a space of 8 to 12 inches all around next to the boards, to be filled with sawdust, trodden in, as the structure of ice is built upwards. Cover the whole with 8 to 10 inches of sawdust, and let plenty of fresh air blow through the shanty over the top. Ice will keep in this way as well as in the most costly and elaborate building.


The point settled in building ice-houses is, that the whole ice-house should be built above ground. This is the practice in Massachusetts. There is no substance equal to a confined space of air for the walls of ice-houses. Build of whatever substance you please, so that you have a double wall, tight enough to hold air, and you will have the perfect protector of ice. . . . Ventilation is necessary when you desire to keep food sweet. If there is no ventilation, the confined air soon becomes very foul from animal substances on ice.


Icehouses did not become common farm buildings until well into the nineteenth century. By that time it was recognized that ice, which could be conveniently harvested at no cost except for labor, would prevent expensive spoilage of meat and dairy products. Nearly every farm had access to a nearby pond or lake from which the ice could be sawed and hauled on sleds to the icehouse.
The structural considerations in building an efficient icehouse were outlined in the 1881 book Barn Plans and Outbuildings:


ice moving down the pond


There are some general principles to be observed in the proper construction of any kind of ice house, and all else is of secondary importance. There must be perfect drainage beneath, ample ventilation and perfect dryness above, and sufficient non-conduction material for packing below, above and around the ice, by which its low temperature may be preserved.


The recommended packing, or insulation, was sawdust, charcoal powder, straw, or march hay.

Usually the icehouse was sunk a foot or tow below the ground level in dry, porous soil and then built up with inner and outer walls between which the insulation was packed. The recommended roof had broad, overhanging eaves to shade the walls as much as possible. Some icehouses were built so that the ice could be stored above an open storage space. This type required much stronger walls to support the weight of the ice and were generally made of stone or brick. Except for a ventilator at the top of the roof, extreme car had to be taken to make the ice storage space both airtight and watertight. Any drafts capable of passing through the floor would melt away the ice in a very short time.

Modern refrigeration methods have made the icehouse obsolete, and very few remain now.


"Icehouses, once common enough on the better farms of America, have with few exceptions. long ago been made over into extra chicken houses or split up into kindling wood....To put up ice one must have good water - a pond or lake, a river or stream with a sizable pool of deep water. Many of the first farm ponds were built, not to supply water, but to supply ice. The ice harvest usually came toward the end of January or early in February, when the ice was about ten inches thick. The best temperature for cutting was a ficehouse fishing new england ice house history informationew degrees below freezing, so the water would freeze quickly on the cakes after they were taken out of the pond. but it seemed that it never was a pleasant twenty-five degrees; frequently it was zero or below.


Men did not dare to wait, for too often a zero spell in the Northern states is followed by a thaw which would spoil the ice. After the snow was scraped from the area, the ice was plowed out. The ice plow was a weighted, horse-drawn contrivance with a row of sharp teeth which cut a narrow furrow six or seven inches deep. A marker scratched a line for the next cut. The plow was run one way over an area, then over the other at right angles, plowing out a checkerboard pattern of cakes of a more or less standard size, 22 inches by 12 inches, weighing about a hundred pounds.


Sometimes the cakes were broken apart with a boar, but particular people liked to have the edges smooth, so the last two or three inches were sawed by hand. The ice saw was straight-bladed and four or five feet in length with a handle like a lawn mower. After the cakes were cut, they were poled through the dark water to shore. Here a long plank sloped into the water; the trick was to give the cake of ice enough momentum so that its weight would carry it up where someone with a pair of tongs could snag it..... the ice was hauled to the ice house on two-horse bobsleds. Layer by layer the old weathered ice house was filled.


A sprinkling of dry sawdust was scattered between each layer of cakes. This made them easier to separate when they were taken out. A two-foot-wide layer of sawdust was tamped lightly between the ice and sides of the building. After the last layer was pushed up the long, oak plank, the whole heap was covered a yard deep with sawdust. Some farmers not only cut ice for their own needs, but for neighbors. The going price was five cents a cake. But the thrifty farmers wanted their own ice-cutting equipment.


It took an average of three hundred cakes to last a family through the summer; at five cents a cake this was fifteen dollars, one-third the price of a good cow....No one knows when a farsighted colonial farmer first conceived the idea of storing ice to use in hot weather. Old records reveal that many icehouses were built in New England after the Revolution." (Taken from The Good Old Days, Ice Harvest, R.J. McGinnis, F. & W. Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, pages 121-122.)


One of the region's major exports during the nineteenth century was ice. In the days before modern refrigeration, large blocks of ice were cut from local ponds and the Penobscot River and stored in large iceshouse. Packed in sawdust for insulation, the ice could keep throughout the summer months and be shipped as needed to any port from Boston to Brazil.

On the Penobscot, in order to reach the channel where deeply laden craft could navigate, large crib works built of heavy timber and ballasted with rock were place many yards out from the shore and use as loading stages. these platforms, some forty feet square, were connected with the icehouse on shore by long chutes. The ice was shot down theses chutes into the holds of the waiting vessels.