As the majority of our American readers are aware, it is H-O-T outside. If you’re reading this on a computer then hopefully you are doing so from the privilege of an air-conditioned building, perhaps with a frozen or refrigerated drink at hand. Isn’t electricity a nice thing? Nonetheless, it might be refreshing to head out to an ice house right about now, chip a few pieces off a big block of ice, and get some relief the old-fashioned way. . . No? You’d rather stay in your air-conditioned office? Well, okay then. Instead, let’s remember our ice-house-reliant ancestors, to feel even better about our electrical advantages.
Last week I linked to a picture of a Montgomery County dairy house, but didn’t really explain it. Before refrigerators, you had to find other ways to preserve your food for any length of time; keeping ice on hand throughout the year was helpful. Once a body of water (often a deliberately-made ”ice pond”) was sufficiently frozen in the winter, horse-drawn ice-scorers or plows marked the surface into blocks, which were then cut out with saws. A variety of tools (such as this ice hook from Rockville) were used to transport the heavy blocks to an ice house, designed to keep the blocks frozen throughout the summer. Like dairy houses, ice houses were dug into the ground to keep the temperature low; the double-thick walls were often filled with sawdust for further insulation, and the blocks themselves were packed in sawdust or straw. When you wanted some ice for drinks or to make ice cream, you wouldn’t pull out a whole block; ice picks, chisels, hatchets and shavers were used to get just what you needed.
Someone at Falling Green, an estate outside Olney (featured here before) - perhaps tired of losing or forgetting one half of the equation – made his or her own combination tool. This wooden mallet has a removable ice pick that fits into the handle. (It’s hard to tell scale in this image; when put together, the whole thing is 14 inches long.) Need some ice? Just head out to the ice house with this handy all-in-one implement, pull out the pick, and hammer off a few chips. The unfinished wood is worn, especially on the head of the mallet, showing that this tool was as useful as it seems.
I haven’t found any photos of the Falling Green ice house or ice pond, but here’s a picture of the pond at Pleasant Fields (Neelsville), doing double-duty as a fishing hole for William Waters and his sister Maria, circa 1901. Almost as refreshing as a block of ice!
Ice pick/mallet donated by Miss Mary Farquhar Green; Pleasant Fields photo donated by Marian Waters Jacobs.