Ice! Ice!

File this under “Who’d a thunk it?”

Sacramento Transcript 7 Oct 1850

Wenham Lake ice was famous. The lake in northeast Massachusetts supplied crystal-clear ice to the eastern states, Great Britain, and all the way to California. The ad above began publication in the Sacramento Transcript at the end of July and continued through the fall.

Sacramento Transcript 30 July 1850

The Transcript publicized the news and poked fun at their rival newspaper, the Alta California and its editor, J.E. Durivage (“Dury”). I guess they didn’t have any of this precious stuff in San Francisco.

According to a Wikipedia article:

“A crew of 100 men and 30 to 40 horses was required to harvest the ice. The crew waited for a foot of black ice to form in the lake. Snow was swept off and snow-ice was scraped off by horse-drawn vehicles if necessary. Then, a horse-drawn cutting tool, the marker, scored a grid 2-3 inches deep forming 21-inch squares over two to three acres of ice. Men with saws cut along a line in one direction while men with ice spades knocked the blocks free from the strip. Another crew with ice hooks drew the ice along ramps onto platforms. Full platforms were slid onto sledges for transport to ice houses on the shore. An ice house was built of pine walls filled with sawdust to a thickness of 2 feet (61 cm). The blocks were packed in sawdust for transport, moved to a train in a special wagon and brought directly to a wharf in Boston The blocks arrived in Boston within an hour of the cutting with no loss.”

From Boston the ice went by ship around Cape Horn, a five to six month voyage. Its arrival in Sacramento in the midst of the summer heat would have been welcome indeed. There was probably “pressed snow” available from the Sierras, but nothing could beat Wenham ice for purity and clarity, just the thing to cool your drink, whether it be champagne or sarsaparilla.

Another shipment of ice on the bark Coosa arrived in Sacramento in January 1851. Ice was still available in May, as the weather began to heat up.

Sacramento Transcript 1 May 1851

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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1 Response to Ice! Ice!

  1. Marian Ware says:

    Wow ! It’s amazing just to imagine the harvesting and transport of ice back then.

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