The Hingham Ice Harvest

Ice joined the arsenal of food preservation tools in the 19th century, and local business devoted to producing and distributing ice to homes and business grew up.  (An earlier food preservative, salt, was the subject of an earlier post, “The Old Salt Works.”)  Local businesses harvested ice from Hingham’s many ponds, stored it, and sold it during the warmer months.  These photographs from our archives document Charles T. Leavitt’s ice operations on Cushing Pond in South Hingham:

Cutting ice at Cushing Pond

Men with horses and sleds cut ice at Cushing Pond

Ramp to Leavitt's Ice House, January 31, 1898

Ramp to Leavitt’s Ice House, January 31, 1898

Charles Leavitt's Ice House, January 31, 1898

Charles Leavitt’s Ice House, January 31, 1898

Each ice block was hand cut and weighed up to 400 pounds.  Blocks were sledded to shore, carried to the icehouse, and loaded in, so that the ice completely covered the floor space and then was layered until it reached the roof.  Properly piled and insulated, ice would remain frozen throughout the summer and into the following fall.  In Walden, Henry David Thoreau provided a description of the ice storage process:

They divided it into cakes by methods too well known to require description, and these, being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an ice platform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle, worked by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of flour, and there placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if they formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the clouds. . . .  At first it looked like a vast blue fort or Valhalla; but when they began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the crevices, and this became covered with rime and icicles, it looked like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin, built of azure-tinted marble, the abode of Winter . . . .

They told me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and the intellect.

Charles T. Leavitt distributed ice in Hingham and around the South Shore until 1902, when he sold out to George C. Hayward, who continued to sell ice for another twenty or so years.  In January 1914, the Hingham Journal reported :

Mr. George C. Hayward, Hingham’s popular iceman, began Monday morning on cutting his ice for the season of 1914 at Cushing’s Pond, South Hingham. He has good clear ice of ten inch thickness.

By the second World War, however, most people in this area had electric refrigerators, and the days of the icebox and ice delivery were over.

"C.T. Leavitt Ice" Delivery Truck on South Street, Hingham

“C.T. Leavitt Ice” Delivery Truck on South Street, Hingham

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