Squam Lake Ice Harvest

Saving Lake Ice in an Ice House for Ice Box use during Summer

There has been some recent conversation here on the blog about saving ice for refrigeration, the concept of an ice house, and the ice box.

Years ago I went to Thomas Jefferson home in Monticello and I remember that he had a dry well that he used as a freezer and as a source of ice in the summer.

The well had a top on it to keep the sun and animals out.

In the winter they would go down to the river or lake and cut ice blocks place them in the well and cover them with hay. This is where they would store the meats and other perishables all summer.

I can see where this could come in handy for many things in a grid down situation. Having a place to store foods out of site and in the summer months when you are hunting.

said ‘bender’ here on MSB

The Annual Ice Harvest on Squam Lake

This got me thinking about “The Annual Ice Harvest” at Squam Lake here in New Hampshire. It’s a very interesting glimpse into the self-reliance of our ancestors. A time before refrigeration. A lesson from history, if you will…

A tradition that still takes place every year, preserving lake ice to be used throughout the summer months.

It’s a place called Rockywold Deephaven Camps. A retreat created over one hundred years ago of cabins, cottages, and lodge rooms on Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire.

Steeped in New England tradition,

Every winter, long after the last guests have departed, a ritual takes place at RDC — the harvesting of lake ice.

When the ice off the Deephaven shore becomes eleven or twelve inches thick (usually mid January to mid February) the work begins.

In one week, 200 tons of ice are taken from the lake by a crew that includes many who have done the job for decades and a few who follow in their father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

The ice will fill the cottage ice boxes in the summer, keeping alive a connection between the camps and the natural environment that surrounds them.

rdcsquam

How They Do It – Harvesting Lake Ice

RDC Ice Harvest, February 2021

Fascinating.

Lessons learned? Well, life was ‘harder’ back then. Lots more physical work and labor. However human ingenuity overcame many obstacles. In this case, a way to have ice all summer long. People had ice boxes at home. They would receive delivery of new ice on a regular basis. That was their refrigerator.

It also makes one thing about our dependence upon electricity today! Wow. We would be in deep trouble without it!

[ Read: Compact Refrigerator Freezer For Solar Power Energy System ]

[ Read: 10 Things People Will Miss Most Without Electricity At Home ]

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12 Comments

    1. Great to see. I grew up on the Great Lakes and it shows my age to say that the ice man came around the neighborhood on a regular basis with a horse drawn wagon selling ice to those who still had ice boxes. We had a fridge so didn’t need it but the horse was always nice to see. We were close to the dairy in town and were on one of the last horse and wagon delivery routes and the hose was tied up to a ring set in the sidewalk in front of house where he would get a nose bag of food.
      Sounds romantic but it was also the last days of polio before the polio vaccine became common, pluses and minuses in any lifestyle and time in history for sure.

  1. Very interesting video. That camp looks like a really fun and relaxing place to visit, too.

  2. Thanks for the info. Another thing to add to the chore list when the time comes. I have a huge lake that gets ice like this in the winter. Hauling it home wouldn’t be that bad in a sled I think.

  3. This was fun to see. People were so tough in the past. I found pictures of my great aunt watching the men cut ice on a lake in the Colorado Rockies. Thanks for these pictures!

    1. Pojo Rose

      Not only were ‘people tough in the past’, they were resourceful.
      Making do with what resources/ingenuity they had.

      We have collapsed from that type of mindset.

      The old ways ar e the best ways.
      We NEED to adjust.

  4. This is a great concept. One that all should consider, if a frozen source of ice is readily available.

    I bought a 14 in chain saw, one year, used vegetable oil for the chain lubes, as not to contaminate with regular bar oil. That one year, I wished I went with a 16 in. bar, that year.
    Saw dust is also a good insulator.

    Just another project I will have to re- consider.

  5. They used to cut ice from ponds at a place called Pactolis, CO in the Front Range of the Rockies, where the transcontinental railroad tunnel comes out under the Divide. This ice was stored in big barns until summer. As the produce trains from California brought fresh produce (lettuce, celery, fruit,etc) through to the East Coast, they would stop at Pactolis and load the box cars with shaved ice to cool the produce for the trip across the Plains. This went on until the 50s when mechanical refrigeration became “practical”. If you have a good clean water source, cold weather in the winter, and a place to store the ice…….I think it is still practical as heck myself.

  6. Awesome read, l remember my grandfather talking about gathering ice from our local ponds years ago.

  7. My Amish neighbors still cut ice from their pond, and store it in sawdust in their ice house. They invited the boys and I to come watch one year, but it was oh dark thirty, and -20F without the windchill, so I passed. Wish I hadn’t; it would have been neat to watch. One word of caution if you have livestock: the water will freeze over again, quickly if you have ‘real winter’, but it won’t be very thick at first. My neighbors lost a cow who walked over the thin ice and broke through. They got her out, but she wasn’t able to warm up quickly enough. Just keep an eye on your critters. Oh, and another use for that ice is to make ice cream in the summer!

  8. Grate article and videos Ken, something I’ve forgotten about. In my area we hade the Truckee Ca. Ice House

  9. When I was a girl, we’d visit a farm in Ontario during the summer and stay in a cabin there on the lake. I remember their ice house..you’d go in and it was cold in there in mid summer..and all their ice was covered in sawdust for insulation. I recall watching them pull out a big block to give to us to use for our cabin.

    I can see this would be a great way to have some refrigeration off grid if you are in a cold enough region to harvest ice. Here in WV we might be able to do this off our farm pond.

    Fantastic video. Thanks for sharing it.

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