In June 1967 I moved to California for graduate school. Among the many things I learned about the west coast was that no one there called that thing in our kitchen an icebox. It was a refrigerator. In California-speak a pocketbook became a purse, dungarees became jeans, and sneakers became tennis shoes.
There’s a reason we called it an icebox. The one I remember was a big wooden box with a zinc lining, a heavy door, and a compartment for a block of ice. In this photo from our Thanksgiving supper in 1948, the icebox is right behind my head in the farmhouse kitchen.
I remember ice blocks being carried into the kitchen hanging from large metal tongs and then squeezed into their icebox compartment. At that time my grandparents were, I assume, buying it commercially, but until at least sometime in the 1930’s my grandfather cut his own ice and stored it in the icehouse.
January was the month for getting in the ice. My grandfather waited until the pond ice was thick enough before spending the several days it took to harvest it.
Monday, January 8, 1912 – “Pleasant morning – washing done. Ellsworth preparing to get ice. Went up to Wilbur’s to get his ice plow. Towards evening commenced to snow.” – Lydia Jane Hall
The ice plow – probably pulled by a horse and guided by the farmer – cut grooves into the ice, first one direction and then another until the gridded ice could be sawed into blocks.
Wednesday, January 10, 1912 – “Clear and cold. Commenced getting ice, which is nice and thick. None so thick in a long time. Mr. Cella and son helping them get ice. Busy all day. Nice sliding on the hills.” – Lydia Jane Hall
The blocks were piled onto sleds and pulled back to the farm by horse teams.
Monday, January 19, 1914 – “A dark cloudy day. Looks much like a storm. Our washing not done. Men cutting ice. Got in three loads in afternoon. Ice twelve inches thick. Hard for the old blacks [the farm horses] to pull it up onto the road.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Wednesday, January 21, 1914 – “The men finished getting ice. The ice house is full of nice ice.” – Lydia Jane Hall
I wish I knew where the icehouse stood. It may have been the building next to the creamery. The ice would have been packed in sawdust to keep it frozen, and used all year.
Saturday, January 26, 1924 – “Much colder. Children at home going out and coming in with their cheeks like red roses. Agnes took Lydia to take her music lesson this morning. After dinner helped Edith clean kitchen and dining room and bake cookies. Men cleaning out the ice house getting ready for the ice, which they are expecting soon.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Lydia writes about two of the ponds used for ice cutting.
Tuesday, January 11, 1921 – “Ellsworth is cutting ice. Brought in six loads of ice from Mr. Leete’s pond. Mr. Leete and Charles Argonnis helping him.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Friday, February 8, 1924 – “The men are getting ice from our little pond down in the meadow. Mr. Ives is working with them. They are putting it in his icehouse. Ours is filled. They put it in – nine loads today.” – Lydia Jane Hall
One of the problems of the old-fashioned icebox was that the blocks of ice often had dirt and plant matter in them that made a mess as they melted. But the winter ice for me was all about skating and sledding, and I loved being able to peer down through the ice to see the frozen detritus. We skated on the little cow pond next to the lane until the late 1950’s when my Uncle Francis built a larger pond just up the hill from the smaller one. It was there that my cousins played hockey and I had a skating party where a friend fell and knocked out his front teeth. I’m sure my grandfather would have wanted some of that splendid ice for his icehouse, but these days I’m not sure if he would ever find ice that was twelve inches thick.
On Monday: Have you Counted your Handkerchiefs lately?