Ice Harvesting on the Connecticut River
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Harvesting Ice on the Connecticut River
Ice harvesting on the river, sometime after 1910.
These recollections are edited from Riverside: LIFE ALONG THE CONNECTICUT IN GILL, MASSACHUSETTS, pages 68 and 69. Click Here to Order.
While the land provided planted harvests for Gill farmers, the Connecticut River also yielded an annual crop of ice for domestic and commercial use. The Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal of February 1811, details statistics about the thousands of blocks of ice taken from the length of the Connecticut. Close to 8,000 tons of 14-inch cubes were harvested by Greenfield Ice and Trucking Co. The report continues, “The New York Central Railroad has frilled its large ice house at West Springfield. The Company harvested 385 carloads of ice.”
In his 1885 diary, Henry B. Barton, who farmed in and around Riverside, details his family’s cutting and storing of ice at Barton Cove:
Friday, December 4, 1885- Pleasant. Willie and I worked all day on the ice house. Put in all new studs and re-boarding inside up to the eaves. . . .
Saturday, December 5 - Cloudy with light rain. Cleared away just at night. We set a new step at the stable door. Cleaned three loads of tan bark from the ice-house and cleaned up the henhouse for winter putting in a fresh load of sand. . . .
Thursday, January 22 - . . . Uncle Len cleaned out the ice-house. One of the coldest days of winter. Mercury scarce above zero all day.
Monday, February 9 - . . . In the afternoon Uncle Len went to Greenfield and Willie and I started in the ice business. Got a large place all cleared and when we took out the first cake found so much mud frozen to the bottom we had to give up and start in on a new spot so only got out half a load to bring up at night. The quality is tip-top – ten inches of thick and all clear but we have to cut four inches thick and all clear – but we have to cut 4 inches of snow- broth and throw away. Hardest time to get our ice we have had for several years.
Wednesday, February 11 - The worst day of the season thus far to work out doors. Scarce above zero all day and a raw wind has blown all the time. Have cut and drawn three loads of ice. . . .
Thursday, February 12 - A sharp winter day. Finished getting our ice. Had to save snow-broth today as it was frozen to the under ice- making our cakes twenty inches thick.
Friday, February 15 - Willie and Uncle Len covered the ice with sawdust.
At a later date, Ernest V. Yukl, long-time Riverside resident and historian, reflects that Gill farmers harvested ice along the river near the mouth of the Cove. Some was also done by a milk company from Turners Falls. “Mr. Herbert Barton, Henry’s son, used to do the cutting, charging so much for each cake.” He continues, “Louis Koch rented the New England Fiber Co. building that closed in 1901. There was a very deep cellar, probably 75 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 25 feet deep with a doorway at the bottom near the Heal-All Brook around to the top, [and] this road went through our yard and around to Pine Street.”
“I was still in grammar school and Mr. Koch used to have me help, especially filling edges and covering the top with sawdust. We had certain days to get ice. I would uncover enough for the time and help to get the ice out, then cover it again. When the ice was all used up, we backed into the bottom and [brought] sawdust to the top in a large pile ready for the next harvest.”
“Sometime soon after 1924 Mr. Koch tore the building down as no one harvested ice any longer. . . .”