Did you know in Southampton's history.... 

As part of the Town’s 375th anniversary celebration, please take a moment 
to enjoy some weekly historical facts you may not have known
Ice Harvesting - Water Mill
Ice Harvesting in Southampton Town

Since the settlement of Southampton Town, residents had cut ice from local water bodies to be used in food preservation. Harvesting usually began in the winter as soon as the ice was three to four inches thick and could handle the weight of men and horses.  Workers sitting on small ice “harrows” pulled by horses would cut a furrow in the pond, lake, or river and define the desired block width. Using hand saws, the men would then slice through the rest of the way and float large sections to the shore. 

Once the blocks were cut to their final size, they would be stored in layers with salt hay in-between. Usually this was underground in pits insulated with wood, and which were frequently covered with sheds. The doors would typically face north (strategically positioned for sun and wind), and the structures could also help keep perishables cold in the warmer months. The Benedict family in Water Mill had four such ice houses, with surplus ice stored in their barns, as well as in the basement of the water-powered grist mill they owned.  Located near the Long Island Railroad tracks it was easy to load the ice into specially designed railway cars for transport to the Knickerbocker Ice Company in New York City.

This ancient practice remained a common one until around the turn of the last century, when artificial ice factories became common, and New York State banned the sale of “unsanitary natural ice.” In the year 2015, the curious can take a peek into the past by visiting the Water Mill Museum, which features the Benedicts’ ice tools, along with photographs of the ice men and horses at work.  The Quogue Wildlife Refuge also has an exhibit.

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