Historic Ice Harvesting in Woods Hole


As each new year turned from January to February the thickness of the ice on local ponds was a topic of conversation. Should we cut now? Should we wait for it to get thicker? What if we have a warm spell? Filling the ice house was always a challenge.


Ice harvesting was sometimes a family affair.

Ice Houses

One hundred years ago a common sight on the shores of large freshwater ponds around Falmouth was an ice house. These special buildings had but one purpose: to store ice cut from nearby ponds during the coldest part of winter so that it could be enjoyed during the summer and fall. Everything about the design of an ice house was focused on minimizing the amount of ice that melted during warm weather:

  • There were no windows.
  • There was a 12” space between the wooden outside wall and the wooden inside wall, that was filled with sawdust for insulation.
  • There were drain holes at ground level for water from melting ice to leave the building.
  • The ice blocks (also called cakes) were packed tightly together. On top of each layer of ice blocks there was a thin layer straw or sawdust to keep the layers of ice from freezing together.

The most distinctive feature of an icehouse was its tall loading door that started at ground level and extended almost to the peak of the roof. Below are photos of some of the ice houses that were in Falmouth or Woods Hole.

An icehouse in Falmouth

People in the background of this 1899 photo are cutting ice on Nobska Pond in Woods Hole in front of the Fay Ice House.

Ice House and Train Depot Woods Hole

This 1902 photo of the train depot in Woods Hole shows a pair of ice houses with their distinctive tall, narrow loading doors.

Ice House of the Falmouth Ice Company

These ice houses of the Falmouth Ice Company on Shivericks Pond could hold 2,000 tons of ice.

Map of Main Street Falmouth

This 1914 map of part of Main Street in Falmouth shows the two ice houses in the photo above.

The Harvest is Announced!

Newspaper article

The Falmouth Enterprise, Feb. 16, 1901

Newspaper article

The Falmouth Enterprise, Feb. 22, 1928