Ice harvesting is an industry of the past, and one whose roots lie only in cold climates – like western Massachusetts! Done both as a necessity in early New England and as a profitable industry more recently, ice harvesting plays an important role in local history, literature and New England culture.
Part of a rich history of economic pursuits driven by available natural resources, ice harvesting plays an important role in the history of communities all over western Massachusetts. Throughout the upcoming month, local historical societies and museums offer families opportunities to learn – in some cases, experientially – about the process of ice harvesting.
Ice harvesting is embedded within the history and cultural traditions of New England. So much so, in fact, that it also influenced the literary reflections of writers such as Henry David Thoreau. As you explore ice harvesting through living history demonstrations and artifacts from the past, read Thoreau’s chapter in Walden on “The Pond in Winter” for historical understanding from a literary perspective.
In the days of western Massachusetts past, when refrigerators weren’t standard kitchen equipment, ice was quite a luxury during the summer. In order to have ice after the spring thaw began, early New Englanders would have to harvest and strategically store ice from local lakes and ponds. Kept in the proper conditions (in the dark, and surrounded by insulation – usually sawdust), the harvested ice would last much longer than the cold weather did.