Ice and snow are aspects of winter in New England that evoke emotions from joy and excitement to distain and frustration. Way back in the late 1800s, some Fairfield residents actually found a way to make a living off of winter ice! The Fairfield Museum’s Winter Wonderland exhibition (which runs through Feb. 19) includes photos, tools and information about local ice harvesting. Here are some details.
Ice was once considered the first important agricultural product of the year, harvested in January and February. Ice became big business in the early 1800s, when New England merchants began shipping ice to warmer locations around the world including New Orleans, the West Indies, Cuba, Calcutta and China. As railroads grew, in the 1870s they required tons of ice to supply their refrigerated boxcars.
Ice was also sold locally to help keep food cool. By the late 1800s, ordinary homeowners were likely to have an icebox, filled with either natural or machine-made ice. Benjamin F. Bulkley and his family ran the Sasaco Lake Ice Company, which harvested ice on the Westport-Fairfield line from the early 1900s through the 1940s. The photo here was taken in about 1910. They used horse-drawn scrapers to keep the ice clear of snowfall, which allowed it to freeze to a greater depth. Ice was ready to harvest when it reached 12-2- inches thick. Blocks of about 24 by 30 inches were cut with horse-drawn ploughs, ice saws and hooks and floated onto a slanted ice conveyor which carried them into the ice house where they were packed with hay or sawdust to keep them from melting. They delivered it to local homes, first in horse-drawn wagons and later in a truck. Over time, the spread of the electric refrigerator made the harvesting and sale of ice obsolete.
About the Fairfield Museum & History Center: The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10am-4pm. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations and foundations. The Museum is especially grateful for leadership support from the State of Connecticut, Town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.