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AN ICE HOUSE FOR THE FARMSTEAD
Ice houses were once a common part of the historic agricultural landscape throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. An early icehouse which once stood here at the Farmstead was unfortunately demolished before the mid 20th century. Luckily, the foundation remained intact. Now a reconstruction of that ice house, based on research of other local icehouses, has been built upon the early foundation.
Melchior Schultz, who owned the farm from 1794 until his death in 1826, probably built the site?s original ice house. The ice house was situated directly above the root cellar to allow cold air and water from the ice to also cool the underground chamber.
On farms, ice houses were usually situated near a stream on which a dam was set to create an ice pond. Farmers then could ?harvest? the ice in the coldest months, using specially designed ice cutting tools ? saws, axes, spike poles and ice planes. Large ice blocks, generally four feet by two feet and up to two feet thick were cut and hauled by horse-drawn sled to the ice house for storage. Sawdust, wood shavings and straw were layered between the ice blocks as insulation.
Since photographs of the original ice house do not exist, careful research of other ice houses in the region guided this reconstruction. Within a few miles of the Peter Wentz Farmstead, in Worcester Township, another ice house was located with nearly the same dimensions as the Farmstead?s foundation, and of even greater importance, it was also built above a root cellar. This became the model for the above ground appearance of our reconstruction. The ?new? ice house at the Farmstead is constructed with 18 inch thick stone walls, one door and no windows to limit the amount of warm air that can enter. As an additional insulating factor, and to better reflect sunlight, the exterior stone walls of many ice houses were covered with white plaster.