In July 1869, after the Church family returned to Olana from 18 months aboard, Frederic Church's involvement in the farm's activities increased. He completed several building projects, including the construction of a rectangular, wood-frame icehouse on this site. Located near the lake and the road to facilitate loading and unloading, the new structure would have held ice harvested from the Hudson River, Olana's lake or purchased from the neighboring farms or commercial ice houses.
In the years before electricity and refrigerators were common, farms often included lakes or ponds specifically for the production of ice. Icehouses, and the ice they stored, kept food beverages, and farm products cold before they consumed or delivered to market. Ice harvesting provided employment for farmers and farm workers during the slow winter months, income from the sale of excess ice to support the farms, and a social outlet for the workers as they moved from farm to farm.
Top Picture Caption: Ice harvesting began when the ice was 10-20 inches thick. It would be cleared with horse-drawn and hand plows and scrapers, cut into blocks, loaded onto sleighs, and hauled to the icehouse by teams of horses. Ice markers would be used to draw a grid on the ice from which uniformly sized blocks, typically 22 inches wide by as much as
43 inches long, could then be cut.
Top Middle Picture Caption: In addition to this plow, ice harvesting involved numerous specialized tools such as scrapers, chisels, saws, ice markers, adzes, grapples, bars, tongs, and equipment such as elevators to load large blocks of ice into icehouses. The Glifford-Wood Company of Hudson, N.Y., was one of the leading manufacturers of ice-harvesting tools and equipment.
Bottom Middle Picture Caption: Once ice was removed from the icehouse, it was placed into an ice box such as this one. There it would chill food and beverages in much the same way as modern-day ice chests. Typically, the block of ice fit neatly into a separate compartment at the top of the icebox.
Left Picture Caption: Harvested ice was loaded into the 20-foot-2-inch x 26-foot-5-inch icehouse (shown here in ca. 1934) and covered with straw or sawdust to provide insulation, and prevent it from melting. Ice blocks would be moved from the icehouse to the main house and specific farm buildings as needed.