Dublin Historical Society

Ice House

Imagine not having a refrigerator or a freezer to keep food, drinks, ice cream, meat and all those other things we count on being available and unspoiled whenever we open those appliance doors. In the “old days”, how did people keep food cold in the summer so it would stay fresh longer and meat would not spoil? Yes, people had root cellers under their houses which were cool, but not cold. And some people kept food in well shafts which kept the items cooler because they were below ground level.

In Dublin, as in most towns and villages, before refrigeration was available, people solved the problem with ice! They keet food very cold using blocks of ice long into the hot summer, and the Scioto River played a role helping Dubliners with this. Read about the Ice House, where blocks of ice were stored before being taken to peoples’ houses and put into “ice boxes”, the forerunner of the modern refrigerator.



Ice is one of the greatest of summer luxuries, and indeed is almost a necessity. It is so easily put up, even in the country, and so cheaply protected, that there is no reason why any one who is able to own or rent a house may not have it in liberal supply. A cheap ice-house may be made by partitioning off a space about twelve feet square in the wood-shed, or even in the barn. The roof must be tight over it, but there is no necessity for matched or fine lumber for the walls. They should, however, be coated with coal-tar inside, as the long continued moisture puts them to a severe test and brings on decay. Ice should be taken from still places in running streams, or from clear ponds. It may be cut with half an old cross-cut saw, but there are saws and ice-plows made for the purpose to be had in almost every village. In cutting ice, as soon as it is of sufficient thickness and before much warm weather, select a still day, with the thermometer as near zero as may be. Ice handles much more comfortable and easily when it is so cold that it immediately freezes dry, thus preventing the wet clothes and mittens, which are the sole cause of any suffering in handling it; and ice put up in sharp, cold weather, before it has been subjected to any thaw, will keep much better and be much more useful in the hot days of summer than if its packing had been delayed until late winter or early spring, and then the ice put up half melted and wet. The best simple contrivance for removing blocks of ice from the water is a plank with a cleat nailed across one end, which is to be slipped under the block, which slides against the ice and may then be easily drawn out with the plank, without lifting. Cut the ice in large blocks of equal size, pack as closely as possible in layers, leaving about a foot space between the outside and the wall, and filling all crevices between the blocks with pounded ice or sawdust. Under the first layer there should be placed sawdust a foot thick, and arrangements should be made for thorough drainage, as water in contact with the ice will melt it rapidly.

Excerpt from Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Buckeye Publishing Company, 1879