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Getting Up The Ice
January 5, 2016
This winter chore for local farmers actually began in the fall, before freezing weather set in, the building used as the icehouse was cleaned of most all of the damp sawdust, except for a few inches at the bottom.
On nearby ponds and lakes when the ice would measure at least twelve inches thick the harvesting began by marking out a grid of rectangular blocks using a horse-drawn ice plow. Then men and boys began pulling the long, big-toothed ice saws up and down cutting the blocks that had been marked out. Others are pushing lines of blocks through the dark, crackling water to the edge of the pond. The blocks are then pulled from the water and loaded on to the farmers wagons. It is best to harvest the ice on a good, snappy day as the cakes dry quickly when taken from the water.
At the farm, the blocks were pushed up a smooth oak or maple plank into the icehouse. It may not be as difficult to build a pile of ice as it is to build a load of hay onto a wagon, but is has to be done correctly or there will be trouble next summer. A thin scattering of sawdust between layers prevents the cakes from sticking too closely to each other. If the blocks have a quarter-inch space between them in the layer, a farm boy can get them out more easily.
A rather standard size for a cake of ice was twenty-two inches by twelve inches and weighed about 100 pounds. Some farmers not only cut ice for their own needs, but supplied it for neighbors. The going price was five cents a cake. 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. Ice was needed not only for household use but also to cool the milk in the milk house. On a hot summer day ice was used to make delicious homemade ice cream.
With the advancement of electric refrigeration this yearly chore, “getting up the ice” became a think of the past.
Getting up the ice on Ball Pond, 1925. The Hatch men are shown cutting and loading ice on Ball Pond. The location is where the Town Beach is and the house in the background is still standing. The open land to the right of the dwelling is now covered with homes on Ilion Road. (Photo courtesy of NewFairfield Historical Society)