On a recent hike with my children’s 4-H club we stopped atop a hill to look out over the semi-frozen river below. An animal track slithered its way across the ice, the markings of perhaps a beaver travailing back and forth from the lodge to some unknown location we couldn’t see around the slushy bend in the river. Our crew all stopped for a sip of water and I chatted with the troop leader (my sister and also an avid backpacker in all seasons) about the increased risk to hikers of dehydration in the winter months. While trekking along in the cold one is less inclined to sip on cool water – a mug of warm water appeals far more but is less readily available on the trails. The conversation turned my mind to the availability of ice to chill a drink at any time of year and so I’m picking up on part two of our ice harvest exploration.
The first post explored the geography and history of Lake Gardner as power generator for the mills and a source of ice for local harvesters. The Sara Locke Redford Papers at the Amesbury Public Library also include images which document the operations of extracting the ice including some of the machinery implicated in the process.
Once the ice reached the required thickness (approximately two feet) the work of cutting and storing began in earnest. Ice harvest and distribution required manpower, horsepower in some instances, and the technology of a few important tools. Each day of harvest the workers would score off the portion of ice to be cut for the day. Cutters like the one pictured below, were then used to cut through the score lines creating the blocks of ice which would eventually find their way into ice boxes in local homes.
Transport within the local community required a horse drawn wagon but shipments to Boston distribution centers required collaboration with the railroads. Ice would have traveled by rail in a car much like this one.
Some of the more rudimentary hand tools used for chipping and guiding the ice blocks are still available for sale today just down the road from Lake Gardner at Amesbury Industrial Supply. That is where a member of the carriage museum found the modern ice pick pictured here in the upper left corner of the image. The second pick pictured is an original tool from the ice harvesting companies of Amesbury which that same carriage museum member found around the lake’s perimeter.
As the days slowly lengthen and we eke out a minute or two of extra daylight we anticipate the freezing and flurries of winter in New England and skaters eagerly await Lake Gardner’s first solid freeze. Maybe this year we’ll pick up a few of the tools from the hardware store and try harvesting some ice with the 4-H club.