Fire & Ice: Early New England Culture, Industry and Ice at OSV

Fire and Ice Days at Old Sturbridge Village
January 28th & 29th, 2012

Ice harvesting on the OSV Mill Pond (Courtesy Photo)

If your family was without power during the Halloween blizzard, what did you do to keep your refrigerated goods cold?  It’s likely that you, like many families, buried them in the snow.  Before we had electric refrigeration, that used to be the only way to keep foods cold!  Ice was once an important “cash crop” in New England, and you can learn about the history and science behind ice harvesting at Old Sturbridge Village this weekend!

On January 28th and 29th, OSV hosts Fire and Ice Days, an event that includes ice harvesting, ice skating, sledding (on vintage 1830’s sleds!), and horse-drawn sleigh rides.  Visitors can join historians from OSV, as well as Storrowton Village’s own ice harvesting expert Dennis Picard, for demonstrations of ice harvesting at the village’s Mill Pond.  Visitors can even try out the saws and augers used by ice harvesters during the 1830’s.  Later in the day, there will be a bonfire where visitors can warm up and enjoy cider, songs, and stories!

Fire and Ice Days are both fun and educational- there are many hands-on activities for families to enjoy for a seasonal learning experience.  Learning about the importance of ice harvesting is a great way to supplement kids’ studies of early New England industries and culture, or maybe even food history!  

Old Sturbridge Village is open from 9:30-4pm each day with free entrance for kids during the month of January.  Ice harvesting, as well as other snow and ice related activities, is dependent on weather and proper conditions.  If conditions do not allow a harvest, the event will still take place but ice won’t be harvested.  For more information, call 800-733-1830 or visit

Did you know?

  • If insulated, ice could survive the 16,000-mile, 130-day trip from Boston to Bombay.
  • Chicagoans saw their first lobster in 1842, shipped from the East Coast.
  • The first shipment of ice to England melted because customs officials couldn’t decide how to classify the 300-ton cargo of ice.
  • Ship owners were at first reluctant to carry ice for fear it would melt in the holds of the ships and endanger them.
  • Sawdust, previously a worthless byproduct of sawmills, proved to be an excellent insulator for ice, and provided extra income for lumber mills.
  • Before ice:
    • In the heat of summer, milk would keep for only an hour or two before it began to spoil, and fresh meat wouldn’t keep much longer than a day
    • A chicken had to be cooked the day it was plucked
  • The story of Frederic Tudor, Boston’s “Ice King” who created the ice industry, was presented at the Harvard Business School in the 1930s as a model of the classic entrepreneur; someone who is determined, takes risk, fails, tries again and succeeds.

Excerpted from At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

One Comment on “Fire & Ice: Early New England Culture, Industry and Ice at OSV

  1. On Saturday, Feb 4th 2012 from 12noon-3pm – ICE HARVESTING: Join the town of Granville for their annual ice harvest! Visitors can see the process of harvesting ice and learn about what it was used for. Storrowton Village historian Dennis Picard will demonstrate ice cutting techniques- spectators may even get to try their hand at using the ice saw, pike pole, or ice tongs! Ice harvesting was once a very profitable industry in New England, and ice from the area was shipped all over the world. Learning more about ice harvesting fits into studies of American History, local history, American culture, and technology development. Takes place on the pond at the Noble Drum Factory. 42 Water Street. Granville, MA. (FREE)

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