Since electricity didn’t come to the area until the 1930’s, the refrigerators of today simply didn’t exist. Homemakers and household help relied on iceboxes to keep items fresh and unspoiled. Made of metal or wood, these units had an insulated “box” inside to hold a block of ice which kept the entire icebox cool. From the insulated space ran a drain that led to a pan underneath the freestanding unit. This allowed for the homeowner to remove the water as the chunk of ice melted. The rest of the icebox was very much like our refrigerators of today…with wire shelves and doors. Quite often these iceboxes were kept in a cold room off the kitchen--for easy access--but out of reach from the warmth of the stove or fireplace in the cooking area.
One of the most unique features of The Gatehouse Country Inn Bed and Breakfast is the historic, round icehouse. Build around 1906 to store ice for the iceboxes in the main house (now Ft. Depuy), it was constructed like a large thermos. The sides were double walled and the opening between the walls was filled with sawdust. The floor would be either dirt or gravel and covered with straw or sawdust, both of which are good insulators. The ice would be harvested from ponds or the river and placed into the icehouse like a large iceburg. (Ice harvest revives Toby winter legacy | PoconoRecord.com) In our icehouse, we have two doors, one over the other. The workers would fill the icehouse via the bottom door until it was no longer accessible and they would crawl up the ladder to use the uppermost door. Once again, sawdust or straw was used to insulate as both were cheap and uninteresting to marauding rodents.
Our icehouse was for personal use, but much larger icehouses were built for commercial purposes, as it was a highly marketable item. The bigger towns and cities didn’t have access to the bodies of water and therefore had to purchase their ice from vendors. My mother, who will be 91 on her next birthday, remembers men in horse drawn wagons who had regular routes. Customers had different size iceboxes, requiring varying size blocks and more frequent deliveries.
In January, Tobyhanna hosts an Ice Harvesting Festival. Using old time equipment, they demonstrate the cutting and harvesting of the ice. It is an interesting, laborious and intricate process.
When Fred Waring renovated the gatehouse, he installed tongue and groove flooring which was taken from the bowling alleys in the old Castle Inn in Delaware Water Gap. We aren’t sure how Mr. Waring used the icehouse but we think it was utilized when he entertained.
Today, it is The Icehouse Antiques Shop…filled with collectibles, antiques and anything else you can imagine. It is a labor of love and our guests enjoy having an opportunity to peruse the items in such an interesting and unique setting.
If you are in the area, you may call for an appointment to shop in The Icehouse Antiques Shop. (570-420-4553)