Ice harvesting was a winter activity conducted by local farmers on lakes throughout Putnam County for use in private homes and on dairy farms. The Beer’s Atlas map of 1867 shows an
earlier ice-house at Ice Pond located between the shore of what was then called Crotan Lake and the present Metro North tracks. A large commercial ice-house was built by the Knickerbocker Ice Company replaced it
around the turn of the century. The operation of commercial ice-houses stopped some time in the mid-twenties due to advances in refrigeration and the ice-house at Towner’s was dismantled by 1930.
The ice-house structure (see map) was about 300 ft. long by 250 ft. wide and 56 ft. high. Inside there were 5-10 rooms separated by insulated walls three feet thick and drained at the bottom. The steam
engines that ran the conveyors were located on the hillside above. A spur ran off the maybrook (New Haven) line’s tracks so that the rail lines on both sides of Ice
Pond could load ice. Ice Pond was a regular stop on the Harlem lines up to the late twenties. Engineers were careful not to stoke up the firebox and get
cinders on the surface of the ice. About 25 refrigerator cars a day (in season) were loaded with ice and sent to New York City. Old timers proudly recall that some of the ice was shipped as far as the Caribbean.
Ice Pond could yield up to 2,000,000 cubic
ft. of ice per cutting and hold about 28,000 tons of ice in the house. At the turn of the century about a hundred men might be employed at harvest time, each earning $1.25 per day ($3.50 with a team of
horses/mules). (see harvesting)
The 50 ft. long bunkhouse located a good distance north of the complex had its own cookhouse and a makeshift “jail” for rowdy employees. The large bunkhouse
indicated that most of the workers were not local and had probably been brought up by rail. On payday they could walk right down the tracks to Mullarkey’s general store and saloon at Dykemans.
The 2-3 story brick foreman’s house was tucked into the hill above the ice-house. According to a Brewster resident whose family harvested ice on
nearby Lake Tonetta, the last foreman/carpenter was a Mr. Simmons. When told he had to load 50 cars a day instead of the normal 25, he satisfied the impossible request by loading the 50 cars all half full!
The ice-house was taken down by 1930, and the remaining structures burned down in a forest fire at a later date. The cement stairway from the tracks to
the bunkhouse is still in place with the charred remains of cast iron stoves and bedsprings jumbled together in the overgrown foundation. Bricks, a cut stone
foundation, a double vaulted cistern, and a scatter of broken pottery on the hillside mark the remains of the foreman’s house. All that is left to indicate the
scale of this once thriving industry are the foundations of the rooms of the enormous ice-house that once dominated the shore, now barely visible beneath the ferns and trees of the forest.
Text and drawings
by Judy Kelley Mohberg