Annual ice harvesting in the nineteenth century centered on local creeks and the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie to Albany. It was a major source of many families’ annual income. The process of ice harvesting was set in motion as soon as the ice was about nine inches thick. The quality of the ice depended on the different areas of the rivers and creeks from where it was harvested.
As a general rule, blocks of ice were hoisted into icehouses, stockpiled with expediency, and arranged with two to three inches between each block, allowing air circulation and escaping water from the block’s continual melting. Once the icehouse was full, hay was thrown over the bounty’s vastness, which awaited delivery or pickup.
Hudson Valley icehouses were widespread during this time, and Hudson Valley ice harvesting lasted over a century. Believe it or not, ice from the Hudson River was shipped to countries as far away as India! By the end of the Civil War, Valley icehouses stored around three million tons of ice during winter. These icehouses were virtual triumphs of building technology with large ones being able to store up to 50,000 tons of ice. The huge icehouses were owned and operated by several large companies, such as Knickerbocker and Consumer Ice Company. However, there were smaller, independent ice harvesters such as The Binnerwater Lake Ice Company. Started in 1910, Binnewater harvested ice from the Binnewater Lakes in Rosendale and delivered the ice via four ice wagons. Still in existence today and now called Binnewater Ice and Spring Water Company, they sell ice to local mom-and-pop shops and larger stores, as well as consumers who come to their dock for ice. In addition, they now sell bottled spring water, coffee, and coffee products.
Binnewater Ice and Spring Water
25 Pine Street, Kingston
Ice Harvest Relics of the Past . . . The great variety of tools and technology used to harvest natural ice evolved over time as new methods and technology became available. The first tools were basic man- or horse-pulled snow scrapers and saws, wooden planks to mark off the ice field, and long wooden poles with hooks attached at the end to guide the ice to the conveyer systems. The sleighs and cutting tools evolved into powered- or steam-driven cutters by the 1890s. Many of these vintage tools can be viewed at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston’s Rondout area at 50 Rondout Landing, Kingston; 845-338-0071; hrmm.orgflickr