New England Traditions: Ice Harvesting

Before there were refrigerators what did people do to keep their food cold? Sarah Antel, the Director of Education here at Stonewall Farm recently posed this question to a group of students attending our educational Ice Harvesting program. While a few hands hovered tentatively in the air, it was clear that most of the children sitting in front of her could barely conceive of life without a computer, never mind without a refrigerator. So, over the next two hours the students learned the answer to her question by exploring the tradition of ice harvesting. First, they listened to The Ice Horse a children’s book by Candace Christiansen and looked over illustrations in Cocoa Ice by Diana Appelbaum. Students then toured Stonewall Farm’s antique ice harvesting tools displayed throughout the Learning Center. (You can take a visual tour below)

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The lesson culminated in them sawing, carrying, and weighing their own chunks of ice off our pond, specially set up as an outdoor lab to teach a valuable lesson in history.

Since most of us don’t get to go on fieldtrips anymore, I thought I would briefly introduce you all to the process of ice harvesting as well.Traditionally, ice was sawed off of ponds, often with the help of horses, and stacked in what were called “ice-houses,” wooden sheds insulated with sawdust, where the large ice blocks were uniformly packed in. Sawdust was again used to prevent blocks from sticking to one another. The ice was then utilized throughout the year by being transferred from the ice houses to iceboxes, essentially primitive refrigerators which utilized the cooling properties of ice in order to chill food products. Icebox_1

Watch Isaac demonstrate ice harvest technique with Sarah – thanks to Isaac and his mother Sarah for letting us post this video!

And last, compare our video to this archival footage from the early 1900s. Video provided by the Prelinger Archives.

-Sarah Loomis, Communications Manager

Our Ice Harvesting program is just one of many offered to area schools and home school programs. If you are interested in bringing a class here, please contact Sarah Antel at (603) 357-7278 or at


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