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A cool tradition: From January on the lake, to July atop your ‘ice box’

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Here, Zak Gondolfo, of Pennsylvania, hauls one of the blocks from the ice house for cleaning.  Courtesy Cindy Jones—

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Here. Michal Zalewski, of Poland, maneuvers one of the blocks into a cart for delivery. Courtesy Cindy Jones—

  • Courtesy Cindy Jones Courtesy Cindy Jones

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Here, Briggs Clinard, of Virginia, hauls a block out of the ice house.  Courtesy Cindy Jones—

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Here, Luka Ambroz, of Slovenia, delivers ice. Courtesy Cindy Jones—

  • Samo Kolar of Slovenia prepares one of the blocks of ice for transport. Courtesy Cindy Jones

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Courtesy Cindy Jones—

  • Each morning, workers at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in Holderness deliver blocks of ice to the rustic cabins that have no modern refrigeration. The ice was harvested on Squam Lake by teams of volunteers in the winter and then packed with sawdust and stored in the ice house. Blocks are hosed off to clear away the sawdust. Courtesy Cindy Jones



Monitor staff
Thursday, July 05, 2018

As New Englanders rush to buy air conditioners and the region’s power use approaches summertime records, there are some people along Squam Lake who are staying cool the old-fashioned way, 110 pounds at a time.

“Every morning they pull out the ice blocks, clean off the sawdust, and make a run with wheelbarrows to the cabins,” said Kathy Wheeler, cogeneral manager of Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in Holderness.

Those ice blocks – 12 inches by 15 inches by 19 inches – were cut from Squaw Cove and Deep End on Squam Lake in January, part of an annual ice harvesting event that draws enthusiastic participants, known as “ice wranglers,” from throughout the region. The ice harvesting, which this year cut 3,600 ice cakes weighing about 200 tons during three days of heavy effort, is part history lesson and part tourist event, but in the midst of a heat wave, it proves pretty useful.

The camp, which has been operating since 1897, has always used the oldest of all refrigeration techniques to cool at least some of its rooms and food.

Every morning, its 60 cabins and rooms in the lodge get a daily delivery of block ice taken from the insulated ice house, where they sit covered in thermally absorbing sawdust. Staff wheel the blocks from cabin to cabin in wheelbarrows, much to the delight of many visitors, especially when their age is in single digits.

“It’s very popular,” Wheeler said. “The kids come out – they can chip ice off the block.”

Each block of ice is lifted with tongs and placed in the upper compartment of the room’s “ice box” – still the term used for refrigerators in some parts of the country. During the day, the cold sinks down into the insulated compartment below while the water from the melting ice is collected in a pan. The next day the ice is replaced.

It’s not an efficient system, but it’s well tested, and it’s fun.

“We do it for nostalgia,” Wheeler said.

That wasn’t always the motivation. Before refrigeration, this was the only way to cool things. Harvesting ice off New England ponds and shipping it around the world was big business – in some ways, the region’s first truly global industry.

And in a slightly ironic twist, the idea of using ice to cool buildings is making a comeback. Instead of being cut from ponds, however, this ice is frozen at night when electricity rates are lower, then used to help reduce the midday air conditioning load. One firm that developed and installs the technology, called Ice Energy, received $40 million in funding this month.

Rockywold-Deephaven Camps isn’t the only New Hampshire institution using old-fashioned ice harvesting to lure customers. The Kezar Lake and Muster Field Farm Museum in North Sutton organizes an annual ice harvesting and saves the blocks in an ice house, using them for another vitally important summer task, making ice cream.

Wheeler said the program remains so popular that the camp has no plans to replace it with modern technology, although electric refrigeration is used for its dining halls.

Nostalgia has its limits, however: All the cabins and rooms have flush toilets.

“We used to have honey pots,” Wheeler said, giving a polite term for containers of human waste. “We were very happy to see them go.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)