Days Gone By - stories from the past

On October 20, 1887 residents of Hartselle, Alabama learned . . .

How to Build an Icehouse

(From The Alabama Enquirer – Hartselle, Alabama October 20, 1887)

The foundation for an icehouse is the first requisite, and this should be dry and perfectly sealed against the air. A round knoll is the best site, with a slope in each direction, and sandy or gravelly soil is the best ground.

Proceed then as follows:

Dig out eighteen inches of the ground and throw the earth all around, to be afterward raised around the foundation to furnish the slope required to shed rainwater.

Make a stone or brick wall, laid with cement, three feet high and a foot thick, which will raise the foundation a little more than the sloping ground, just enough to secure the base against contact with the earth and consequent rot.

A sill 12 x 3 is then laid on the wall and bedded in the cement or mortar, and a frame of studding 2 x 4 is trenailed (?) on to the sill inside and outside.

The studs are tied together by cross pieces here and there to keep them from spreading.

A plate of 12 x 2 is spiked on the studs.

The studs are covered with tarred roofing paper or felt, and an outside wall is made of novelty siding, which laps over the footwall two inches on to a beveled water table fastened to blocks built in the wall for the purpose.

The inside wall is made of matched boards or boards jointed to fit closely and to the space between the walls is filled with sawdust.

Cross beams are then laid on the plates and spiked to them, and the rafters are spiked to the plates and cross beams.

There is no need for a close fit under the eaves or boxing in the rafters, as amble ventilation above the ice is a necessity.

For a family or dairy using 100 pounds of ice a day for 7 months, 20 tons of it should be put up. This would make 800 cubic feet and would require a house 10 feet square inside and 12 feet high. A tight roof is needed to keep out rain, which would quickly melt the ice.

Three requisites for keeping ice are an air-tight and water-free foundation, an air-tight non-conducting wall, and plenty of ventilation above over a sufficient non-conducting covering.

The ice is packed in a house of this kind on the earth floor upon a foot of sawdust; no sawdust is required around the ice, but this is packed close to the wall and all spaces filled with ice dust.

A covering two feet deep of sawdust is placed over the ice.

The door is double.

A cool closet can be built in an icehouse of this kind, but it will waste a large quantity of the ice, and then a drain pipe should be made with an oo (?) in it to prevent air passing through it into the ice. The closet should be made with walls of zinc or galvanized iron and have a double door like that of the icehouse.

With such a closet twice the quantity of ice will be required. (New York Times)

A more elaborate icehouse in New York ca. 1930s

Johannes Decker Ice House, Wallkill, Ulster County, NY

Vinegar of the Four Thieves: Recipes & Curious Tips from the Past

Vinegar of the Four Thieves: Recipes & Curious Tips from the Past (Paperback)

By (author):  Donna R Causey
List Price:$9.77 USD
New From:$9.77 USD In Stock
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!


  1. Devorah Rose

    How did they make ice back then

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      Often, it was shipped from the North to the South during winter months and kept in ice houses. Later, there was an ice house factory where ice could be bought. Here is a story about ice houses on our other website.

  2. Definition of “trenail”, as used in the top of the story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.