BOXBOROUGH'S LAST ICE HOUSE
The Richardson Farm Ice House
The last ice house in Boxborough, as far as we know, is on land owned by Liz West known as the Richardson farm. The ice house was built between 1900 and 1905. It is not in a phototgraph of the farm taken in 1900, but is listed in the Assessor's register in 1905 as one of a dozen ice houses in Boxborough that year. It must have also been the largest ice house in town because it was assessed at $100 while all the rest were assessed at $50. Mr. Richardson built the ice house to serve his dairy farm as well as sell ice to neighbors throughout the year. There are four ponds within 2,500 feet of the ice house, the closest being Flerra Meadows Pond at a 1,100 foot distance; and because of its close proximity, Flerra Meadows Pond was probably used as the ice source.
The ice house measures 12 feet wide by 14 feet long by 18 feet high and has triple doors in the front and a peaked roof. It holds about 130,000 pounds (65 tons) of ice, worth $1,300 at a penny a pound in 1905. It is wooden shingled, both roof and outside walls. The walls are wood studs with outside rough cut chestnut boarding and finished cut inner wall lining chestnut boards up to the eaves. The outer doors are hinged and there is a slot on both inside door casings for sliding in chestnut gater boards to form the inner wall at the door. It has a stone foundation and dirt floor. The insulation was most likely saw dust poured in between the inner and outer wall boards to form an air barrier. Saw dust was placed on top of the ice, probably 8 to 12 inches thick and on the floor to form a level area, an insulation barrier, and to absorb melted ice water. The saw dust in the walls was most likely replaced when it got saturated with water after the summer and when the ice got low in the early winter. Once the pond froze, new ice was cut in 150 pound blocks, hauled to the ice house by horse and sled, and lifted into the ice house by rope and metal bar hooks drawn tight by horses. The ice was stacked tightly against the inner wall boards in layers, with saw dust between the layers until the ice house was full by end of winter.
The ice house was given to the Boxborough Historical Society in 1997 as a gift. The members of the Society have dismantled the ice house and stacked up the pieces which are being stored in Ms. West's barn, and the walls, which are still intact, outside under plastic cover. It is the intent of the Boxborough Historical Society to re-erect the ice house at a suitable location, making needed repairs such as new roofing boards and shingles, new sills, and stone foundation. Once re-erected, we hope to make the ice house a functioning structure for educational purposes by re-insulating it with saw dust from a local saw mill and storing some cut ice blocks in it for the summer to determine how long the ice lasts. It hopefully will inspire both young and old as we see if the old ice house really worked.
Duncan M. Brown
Boxborough Historical Society
April. 26, 1998
We now know more about how the typical ice house was operated in 1905. First, saw dust was used as insulation, but it was not placed in the wall cavity as first reported. The wall cavity was used as air ducts bringing cooler air in from the bottom and letting it rise up the walls and vent out the top vent in the house gable. This air motion from bottom to top helped keep the ice cooler in the summer. The saw dust was shoveled into a space left between the walls and the blocks of ice, 12 inches thick. The bottom layer of sawdust was sloped toward the middle so the ice blocks would push inward toward the middle from each side so there was no pressure on the walls. The blocks of ice were set on top of each other with no saw dust in between, just saw dust on the bottom, sides and top of the big block of ice>.
Clay tile pipes were placed in the gravel base under the saw dust layer. The gravel was sloped toward the middle and the pipe place in a small trench down the middle of the house. The pipe was sloped to the outside of the foundation to allow the melted water to seep out of the saw dust, into the gravel and then out the pipe.
We also know that ice houses were painted white to reflect the summer sun. Our house was red. We can only guess that Mr. Richardson used up the barn red paint he had left over from painting the cow barn, and relied on the maple trees over the ice house for shade.
In 1999, the ice house was trucked to the Steele Farm site. The stone foundation of a former farm shed was rebuilt on two sides to support the ice house. Mill sawed wood was donated for reconstruction from the operating Boxborough Hardwood saw mill. New sills were installed, but the walls had to be shortened from 14 feet to 12 feet because the bottoms of the wall studs were rotted away. Thus, the ice house is 2 feet shorter than its original height. The rafters and roof hoisting beam and center ridge beam were reset. The outside wall and roof boards were replaced as necessary and rosin paper was placed on the walls and roof and covered by new cedar shingles. The three height separate doors were reinstalled.
As of this date, the back wall has not been completely shingled and the chestnut interior boards have not been reinstalled on the inside. The final step will be to paint it white, and maybe plant a couple of maple trees on the south side to protect it from the summer sun.
Duncan M. Brown
Boxborough Historical Society
October 27, 2008
The Ice House at its current location on Steele Farm
In 2011, Eagle Scout candidate, Mark Vicik of Boxborough, asked the BHSI if he could finish the still not completed ice house as his Eagle Scout project. Both the Steele Farm Committee and the BHSI gave him an enthusiastic answer, Yes! The Steele Farm Committee’s, Mr. Edward Whitcomb, and the BHSI’s, Misters Alan Rohwer and Duncan Brown agreed to assist Mark with this project.
The board sheathing on the back wall had not been completed, nor shingled; the corner trim boards needed to be attached; the inside chestnut boards had not been reinstalled; the three section doors needed hinges and clasps; and, the ice house needed painting, a bright white. The BHSI agreed to buy the building supplies and Mark and his Boy Scout helpers would supply the labor.
Mark started by going to the Boxborough Selectmen with a Community Project Permit Application. The project was approved by the Selectmen and the Boy Scouts.
Mark started by getting some technical help with the sheathing and shingling, and organizing other members of his troop. Mark started in the spring and finished during the fall 2011. The Ice House was going to have its grand opening during the Boxborough Winter Fest in February 2012, but that was cancelled due to the mild winter, no snow.
Boxborough now considers the Ice House complete and the selectmen confirmed the acceptance/ownership of the Ice House in 2012, which will now be maintained through the Steele Farm Committee until the property is put under a conservancy agreement with the Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts.
The Steele Farm and Ice House are on the Boxborough Town Center Walking Tour as designated on the BHSI brochure of the same name, available at The Boxborough Museum.
The freshly completed Ice House scout project at its current location on Steele Farm Home
The freshly completed Ice House scout project at its current location on Steele Farm