Amish Ice House

Now that we’re finally on the right side of the Spring Equinox many of us have our minds on warmer topics.  But let’s pause for a moment before diving into spring to think about a technology we often take for granted–refrigeration.

Most Amish do use some variety of refrigerator.  Amish who don’t typically rely on ice for cooling.  Today Tom offers us some photos of a friend’s new ice house in a New York Amish community.

Tom shares: “My friend Noah built this ice house this winter.  He is one of the lucky ones who have harvested enough for the coming year.  Many people I visited Saturday have not put any ice up yet because of the mild winter we have had in western New York.  The weather does not look good for cold temps in the future.”

Amish Ice House

Tom: “Notice the old door that is reused.  Waste not want not.”

Ice House

“Not much room at this point.  Noah’s 5 children like yogurt and hot dogs.”

Amish Ice

I have a section on Amish ice boxes in my upcoming book.  I’ve learned ice harvesting has something of an art to it.  Thanks to Tom for sharing the photos today.

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    1. Theresa

      Interesting! Yes, it certainly was an extraordinarily mild winter here in WNY. I didn’t realize some of the Amish in the area still relied on ice houses. Makes sense but I didn’t think about it. Usually there is an abundance of ice not a lack of it around here!

    2. Loretta


      When the amish use ice houses such as this, is this the same ice that they would use in their drinks to make them chilled in the summer? Ice that you harvest from the river and ponds wouldn’t be tasty, I don’t think, in my tea. Or to add to make any drink such as tea, kool-aid, powdered lemonade, etc.

    3. Alice Aber

      How much insulation is used?


      Thanks for sharing the pictures Tom!! I am assuming they must use a lot of insulation, how much? Do any of them build an ice house over a creek for added coolness in the summer? I seem to remember at my grandparents homestead there was an icehouse build over the creek, in the shade that helped in keeping things cooler longer.

      As the ice melts are there drainage holes or some other means of getting the water out of the ice house? How do they harvest the ice?

      I could probably ask 100 more questions, LOL. This is quite interesting and I would be interested in hearing more about the ice house and how it is maintained.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. My mind must think like Alice’s because I was wondering all those things, too, and how do they keep the metal from rusting?

    4. Alice Mary

      C-c-c-c-old storage!

      My guess would be they harvest ice in the winter from the nearby body of water that freezes (top several inches, as you can see by the size of the blocks). When helping to author my town’s centennial “history” book, I learned a lot about ice harvesting. At least a couple of old-time residents (this was in the early 1990’s) remembered the procedure, and there are photos of it in the book.

      When the ice on the river (Fox River) was thick enough, they’d take saws and picks and cut square/rectangular blocks of ice which they’d then put on large sleds and haul to shore. It would be stored in various locations (ice houses—larger warehouses) and the local populace would order ice which was delivered to their homes (for their old fashioned ice boxes) Now, this ice was not used to use in drinks (yuck!), but for refrigeration purposes (my family had ice boxes before they had refrigerators). I’m pretty sure “municipal” water was also frozen (drinkable), later. My Dad used to tell me of how he and his siblings & friends would chase after the ice trucks during the hot summer months because the ice man would give them slivers of ice to suck on to cool off.

      I’m VERY thankful for refrigeration, although I don’t like paying the electric bill for it (or air conditioning which I ABSOLUTELY can’t do without anymore, in 90+ temps). Anyone hear of solar refrigeration? 🙂

      1. Christine

        Alice Mary, Over at The Amish Cook site Kevin shows a picture of the solar powered freezer that Lovina’s family uses.

    5. Alice Aber

      Hi Alice Mary,

      Thanks for your reply!! Wasn’t sure if they used picks and saws or exactly how it was done. Those blocks in the pictures look pretty even in size. I would probably have them all different shapes, LOL.

      I have heard of harvesting enough solar and or wind power to run your refrigerator and some small appliances. I also know there are propane run refrigerators, but on the expensive side. Not sure I could do without air conditioning with my fibromyalgia in the humidity, (my worse enemy for pain), but I would be willing to try, LOL.

      Blessings, Alice

    6. Tom

      I am glad folks liked the photos. To answer some questions. Loretta, I don’t think that the ice would be used in a drink, but used in a ice box. It come from a farm pond out back. There are two kinds of ice boxes in use in this settlement. Some folks have oak ice boxes like ours great grandparents used and other have big Coleman type that fishermen use. Alice the insulation in this ice house is spray foam. An interesting side note…Noah has a saw mill and supplies saw dust to a local man who has a hobby farm (used for bedding). And he trades saw dust for insulation work. Bethr the door is stainless steel. They use a gas powered buzz saw on steel wheels to cut the ice and haul it in open farm wagon from the pond. Noah said it was a muddy job this year because of the warm weather..

    7. Alice Aber

      Thanks Tom!! I appreciate your answers. I really find this fascinating. Who knows, maybe someday I will become a homesteader and will be able to put all this information to good use. 😉

      Blessings, Alice

    8. Lance

      In the community I was with, we harvested ice for ice boxes. We used long, one man wood saws, various picks, and ice tongs. The ice was harvested on private ponds, many dug by the Amish just for this purpose. The ice was stored in a building similar to the one above, but we also put loose bead styrofoam over top of the ice to provide additional insulation. The beads stuck to the ice, so we used old fireplace grates to put the ice on while water was used to wash the foam beads off. An ice house usually provided plenty of ice to last through out the warm weather season.

      Ice boxes are anything from large coolers to homemade, ridged foam board lined cedar chests to old fashioned ice boxes from days past. All the boxes need to drain, so the ice box is placed in the wash house, which normally has a concrete floor and a good drain.

      It is interesting that Erik put this topic up today, as I just got home from an overnight visit with my Amish friends and asked if they got their ice house filled. They said no one did, so the whole community will be buying ice in town this year. Sadly, the convenience store just down the road which sold ice in the past is a casualty of the bad economy of the last few years, so someone will have to drive 9 miles each way weekly just for ice! My guess is the local non-Amish will be helping them out.

    9. Matt from CT

      Jeez Lance, sounds like a business opportunity there — I’d bet if they look on the side of the ice box (or the bags) they’ll get the name of the ice company for the store 9 miles away.

      I’d bet $10 that the ice company would be willing to deliver at least to one person’s ice house every week and let them divy it up from there. Or maybe fill ice houses for people who have the money. Probably cheaper then retail.

      Most of the ice businesses I’ve seen written up in the newspaper are pretty small family operations.

      I had been thinking about the very same thing, our winter was so mild back in the day when natural ice was a big deal this season would’ve had many folks up the creek.

    10. barbara

      Gee, it would be easy and less expensive to make yoghurt at home. Possibly they don’t have local milk.

    11. Brittany

      I live near the Horse Cave Amish. My friends there have propane refrigerators. We probably don’t get enough ice on ponds in the winter to put in an icehouse!

    12. Tim

      Amish ice house

      I realize the original posts are over a year old but wanted to comment for new readers. I have property in WNY that I use for hunting and family recreation. We presently have no electricty or water. I built an icehouse about five years ago. I started with a 10 x 12 stick frame structure (shed) built in the shade. The front wall is 8 feet and the rear is 6 feet. The interior received fiberglass batt insulation, a osb wall sheeting and then lined it with aluminum flashing. The flooring is approx 12 inches of sand and then 6 inches of straw to help drainage. On the outside the walls were lined with 4 inches of foam insulation board then I stacked straw bales against the walls followed by another stick built outer wall with batt fiberglass insulation. The roof was constructed in a similar manner. Total wall thickness is over two feet thick. I have two heavily insulated doors. During the winter months we melt snow over a fire and fill 5 gallon buckets and leave them to freeze. The following trip to camp the fire is started again and the buckets are placed in the water to make removing the ice easier. The buckets are carried into the icehouse and emptied onto saw dust and stacked. The frozen buckets weigh about forty pounds so they are manageable especially with the handles. We usually do about 100 buckets at a time and fill the icehouse over about 4 weekends. This has worked better than expected. During the summer months we use an old chest freezer that didn’t work to keep things cold with the ice. At first my wife was not find of these ideas but has come around to like them. We are at the property every weekend and spend as much as two Weeks at a time during the summer. Now she tells everybody about it. Ice melt is not excessive in my opinion and we have not run out yet. If we lived there full time it might be a problem but works great for us now.

    13. Atina Diffley

      Ice House Temperature

      Do you know what temperature the ice houses maintain?