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Looking Backward: Back when ice from the icehouse kept things cold

The ice was cut in uniform blocks by hand or horse plough, and later, by mechanical saws. Then, it was drawn by man or horse to shore, where it was dragged or drawn by horse to the icehouse. It was stacked tightly together in the icehouse and covered by several layers of sawdust or wood chips. Thus preserved, the ice would last long into the summer. Christopher went on to say that "Fifty years ago, most bodies of water were quite pure for the purpose of gathering ice. The winters were cold enough to make ice of proper thickness. Usually, from the middle of January to the last of February, bodies of water froze sufficiently to cut ice. An extended period of near-zero weather was the ice-maker." Obviously, the timing depended on the weather, and we all know how unpredictable the weather can be (this summer being a case in point). Regardless, a February 1906 article in the Syracuse Post-Standard claimed that the average ice harvest began on Jan. 25.

Throughout the 1920s, the United States Department of Agriculture issued alerts encouraging farmers to plan their ice harvests in advance. USDA Farmer's Bulletin #1078 of January 1920, was entitled "Harvesting and Storing Ice on the Farm." It stated that "Where a stream of water or pond is available in the northern section of the United States, natural ice can be harvested and stored at low cost....Under ordinary circumstances from about one-half to one ton of ice per cow is needed annually for cooling cream and from one and one-half to two tons for cooling milk on a dairy farm." The bulletin further advises farmers on various topics related to ice harvesting, including the sources of ice, the size of the ice field, removing snow from the surface, wetting down the field, laying off the field, the size of ice cakes, cutting the ice and the construction, capacity, and cost of icehouses.

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