Life Before Ice in Montgomery County (1910)

Ice harversting, 1910

Men harvesting ice with pitchforks and hand saws in Darnestown, Maryland. Photo taken by Lewis Reed in 1910. Note the blocks of ice stacked up along the shoreline. The exact location of the pond is unknown.

Got ice? Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. Before the first successful ice-making machines were built, ice for refrigeration was obtained through a process called “ice harvesting.” Ice cutters used to risk their lives by going out onto frozen ponds with saws, tongs, and pitchforks and methodically cut and dragged blocks of ice which would be stored in hay-packed ice houses. But people did not put ice in drinks as we do now. The possibility of debris having been in the water as it froze – even a bug now and then – discouraged the idea.

Ice houses were dug into the ground to keep the temperature low; double-thick walls were often filled with sawdust for further insulation, and the blocks themselves were packed in sawdust or straw. When you wanted some ice for drinks or to make ice cream, you wouldn’t pull out a whole block; ice picks, chisels, hatchets and shavers were used to get just what you needed.

Ice harvesting pond, 1910

Same pond in summertime without ice. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910.

I’m not exactly sure what the structure is in the middle of the pond, but “google” said it could be an outlet structure to keep the water surface in the pond at its optimum level, which usually coincides with the maximum water level designed for the pond. If anyone knows exactly what it is, please leave a comment.

Ice harvesting pond in summer

Same pond in summertime from a different perspective. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910.

From The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. December 22, 1904

The cold weather of the past ten days has frozen the ponds and creeks throughout this county to a thickness of six or seven inches, and the ice harvesting is now the order of the day. The quality of the ice is not regarded as first-class, however, and for this reason many persons will defer filling their houses until later in the winter.

Next time you drop a few ice cubes into a glass or take out a frozen piece of meat from the freezer, perhaps give a momentary thought to how much we take for granted the ability to have ice cold drinks, preserved foods that can be stored for months, ice cream, cold frothy beer, and so many perishable food products. Refrigeration is a modern convenience that we just can’t live without and certainly one that I take for granted … or took for granted until I wrote this!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

6 responses to “Life Before Ice in Montgomery County (1910)”

  1. Patrick T Kernan says :

    Great piece. We live in Dallas, which is uninhabitable without refrigeration!

  2. Susan Demas says :

    The stone structure is a drop inlet structure or nowadays a called a water control structure. It is connected to a pipe (usually now metal or polyethlyene plastic) allows water to exit the water body.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Hello Susan,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your informative comment regarding the ‘mystery’ structure in the middle of the pond. I love gaining new knowledge, so thanks for sharing this.

      Warm Regards,

  3. Mark says :

    Nice pictures, you can see the dam that created the impoundment on the right side of the summer photo. The stone structure could have an overflow drain which would keep water from going over the dam and weakening it when the water level was high. This pond must have been on a creek or stream and may not exist anymore.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Hi Mark, Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave your comment. So happy you enjoy the pictures!

      Best wishes for a Happy New Year!
      Jeanne Gartner

  4. Colorful Sisters says :

    Reading this was just lovely 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: