Historic ice houses find new home in Dublin

  •  The ice house from Snow Hill Road on the grounds of the Dublin Gas Engine meet in September. It stores antique equipment and may one day house a workshop.  Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • Men harvesting ice in Dublin in 1893, photo by Henry D. Allison. Ice houses are a part of Dublin's history. Courtesy photo from the Dublin Historical Society—

  • Members of the Dublin Historical Society organized an ice harvest in 2003. Ice houses are a part of Dublin's history. Courtesy photo from the Dublin Historical Society—

  • A man loads a block of ice off a sled and into a barn in Dublin in 1893. Photo by Henry D. Allison. Ice houses are a part of Dublin's history. Courtesy photo from the Dublin Historical Society—

  • Members of the Dublin Historical Society organized an ice harvest in 2003. Ice houses are a part of Dublin's history. Courtesy photo from the Dublin Historical Society—

  • Detail from the ice house previously on the Bass homestead. Two ice houses were relocated to the grounds of the Gas Engine meet in Dublin for restoration. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Door from the ice house previously set into a hill on the Bass homestead. The building will house a steam engine in the future. Two ice houses were relocated to the grounds of the Gas Engine meet in Dublin for restoration. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The ice house, still bearing the flags from its transportation on the road, after being relocated from the Bass homestead. The building will house a steam engine in the future. Two ice houses were relocated to the grounds of the Gas Engine meet in Dublin for restoration. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Inside of the ice house that was relocated from the Bass homestead. The building will house a steam engine in the future. Two ice houses were relocated to the grounds of the Gas Engine meet in Dublin for restoration. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/27/2019 4:47:50 PM

When you think of relocating historic buildings, you usually think of grand old houses with distinctive architecture – not necessarily the two squat, squarish sheds that Caleb Niemela transported to the field leased by the Gas Engine Club in Dublin earlier this year. The two buildings are ice houses, and, like phone booths and hitching posts, they are increasingly rare representatives of structures that were once commonplace in the landscape.

“I saw an old building that needed a home, spoke to the landowner, and we’re able to make it permanent at the Dublin field,” Niemela said. 

His intention is to restore the buildings to give the region’s modern residents a peek back in time, to when Dubliners put away ice in January as consistently as they put away hay in the summer.

Ice harvesting was an essential business for the residents of the Monadnock Region before widespread electricity and refrigeration gained traction in the 1920s. Many families would harvest their own ice for their farmstead’s use, according to Dublin archivist Lisa Foote.

“Most people will know immediately what this is about,” Niemela said, if they’ve ever seen  Disney’s “Frozen.” “First scene, boom, that’s ice harvesting … That was our refrigeration, that’s how we could keep things from perishing,” he said, and clear blocks of ice from local lakes would keep through the summer, insulated with sawdust in low, dark buildings throughout the region. 

Niemela said the ice house projects “sought [him] out.”

“I’m a builder, and when I see buildings that are worth it I take them down and put them back up,” he said.

The two structures were still in decent condition after almost 100 years of not storing ice. 

“Somebody was a steward of these buildings over the years,” he said, and agreed to relocate the buildings when their landowners were considering demolition.

“We had to cut them down in order to get them moved over the road,” he said, but plans to restore both buildings now that they’ve been moved. 

An 1800-era red ice house that was historically part of the MacVeagh homestead in Dublin has a new foundation, and a green ice house from the Bass family’s ancestral home in Peterborough currently rests on blocks. Niemela noted unique architectural details on the structures: an upper door in the red structure for easier loading of ice, and crown molding and a frieze board on the green.

Charlie Bass used to own the property where the green ice house stood.

“My whole life it was used to store farm equipment,” he said, and the foundation was failing by the time his nephew, Steve Walker, bought the property ten years ago and looked into building a house.

“It was basically in the way,” Bass said, and the ice house had been set to be demolished when Niemela suggested that he could take it over to Dublin instead.

Bass said his family used to store ice from Cunningham Pond in the building, and believes it was built prior to the 1880s. He said he’s donating his family’s ice saws to Niemela. 

“There are incredible things we did with our hands in our nation’s history,” Niemela said, and that his involvement in the Dublin Gas Engine Club is linked to his appreciation of the way people worked without modern technology.

Niemela said that the work he’ll put into restoring the buildings are his personal contribution to the club’s show. He anticipates future Gas Engine Meets featuring the restored buildings, with ice harvesting equipment on display, and a massive steam engine the club recently acquired in the green house.

Ice harvesting in Dublin

Foote said the records in the town’s archives indicate that ice harvests happened through January and February, with some residents “finally” getting their ice in in mid-February. In February 1888, the Peterborough Transcript reported “the ice cream crop in Dublin next summer will be large, as ice 25 inches in thickness and clear as crystal is being harvested on Monadnock Lake.”

“Silver Lake and Dublin Lake were both great centers for cutting ice because the water was so clean and so pure in those. And there was a big business, with big underground places where you stored the ice,” said Dublin resident Elizabeth Pool (1914-2012) in a 1989 interview by Dublin Historical Society member Linda Van Wyck. 

Foote said that, before families began to purchase refrigerators in the 1920s, records indicate there was at least one man, Wilfred Fiske, employed in ice harvesting and distribution business in Dublin, and there was at least one commercial ice house in town, that would deliver ice to seasonal residents in town. Fiske is mentioned in the interview with Pool: 

“We had an ice house, and then he would deliver ice. And then we got a refrigerator. But my father always kept the ice box as well, out of loyalty to Mr. Fiske and because we liked having big pieces of ice, and some of the children liked to hack at it.” Pool said.

One summer, she said the ice bill was “quite a bit bigger,” and when asked about the change, Fiske told Pool’s father that he had to raise prices as other residents stopped ordering.

“And bit by bit this happened until I think finally we were about the only family that still had an ice box, and then I guess Mr. Fiske did something else,” she said. 


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