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Block Party: 1890s

Boston circa 1890s. "Jamaica Pond Ice Co. delivery wagon." Before there was a button for "crushed." Glass negative by Charles Henry Currier. View full size.

Boston circa 1890s. "Jamaica Pond Ice Co. delivery wagon." Before there was a button for "crushed." Glass negative by Charles Henry Currier. View full size.


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Summer time ice?

What did they do for ice in the summer? Go without it?

[Drew from stockpiles in ice houses. See this Wikipedia entry. -tterrace]

The Last Hurrah

The name Jamaica comes from an Indian word meaning "abundance of beavers" and the pond is a kettle pond—formed when massive blocks of ice (remnants of the last glaciers) melted leaving huge holes, called kettles, that filled with fresh water. Covering 68 acres, it has a maximum depth of 53 feet, making it the largest body of fresh water in Boston. While it still serves the recreational needs of Boston's Jamaica Plain section, it is no longer used as a reservoir for the City of Boston, and the last ice was harvested there during the winter of 1893-94. The 1850 print below shows ice houses along the banks of the pond. The article is from the July 1894 issue of Ice And Refrigeration Illustrated magazine.

Back in The Day

In the late forties we lived in rural Oklahoma City. As a young boy I was often the recipient of a palm-sized chunk of ice wrapped up in a newspaper, complements of the iceman. A real treat. There was no place out that-a-way that catered to the thirsts of young boys.

Next time I hit the ice machine

I'll hoist a cold one to these two gentlemen. And the customers complain when the ice machines are slow at the convenience store and fast food joints.

How to Order Ice

I have seen cardboard signs with different quantities (10 lbs, 20 lbs, and so on) printed along each edge. The card would be placed in a window (or perhaps a special holder?) with the amount desired on top. The iceman would deliver that amount when he came by. One house I lived in had a compartment in the wall with a door on both the inside and the outside especially for delivering ice.

Ice and other Orders

Is the source of the ice in the Jamaica Plain section of South Boston, before they filled it in?

You could put a square of cardboard in a front window to signal the deliveryman to stop by. Sometimes each of the edges had different inscriptions to indicate that you wanted the quantity displayed on the top. We will have to watch for those cards in future Shorpy photos.

Ice Cards

Ice customers would hang ice cards in the front window to indicate they wanted ice and the direction of the square card would tell the delivery man the size of the block of ice to be brought into the house:

My grandfather was an ice man and when we cleaned out the basement we found a box full of these cards.

The Iceman Cometh

There were many ways to order ice at the time. Many had standing orders. Vendors of ice and many other services, would roam the streets calling out or singing their wares. I can still remember the knife sharpener coming by. He would put a metal bar on his wheel which would make a very loud sound. You would go out and stop him if needed. You could even use that new fangled device, the telephone, if you were wealthy enough to have one.
I can see many of you folks didn't live in the big city. Those cards would have been difficult to see from many apartments. Especially those in the rear. My grandmother had a contract that delivered a set amount of ice. If she needed more the iceman had to go back down and bring more up. Just part of the job. I can remember her ice box as a small child. They are still around (not for ice/food), and will bring a pretty penny these days.

Parking Brake

I see where they kicked a small rock under the rear wheel to keep the wagon from rolling away. I'm surprised they didn't use a bigger wheel chock.

How did they order ice back then? Send a kid to their office or did the ice wagons drive up and down every street with a bell.

[You'd put your ice card in the window to show how many pounds you need. - Dave]

Ice lifting

Was no need to join a gym back then.

For the ice harvest enthusiast

There's an interesting 1919 film available on that documents the ice harvest at Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania. It was made a couple decades after the picture above, but they were still using the kind of horsepower with four legs. Particularly liked the one horse powered ice elevator toward the end, though I suspect the horse didn't like it so much.

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