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Quick Facts

Condition: Original

Where is it Located

About the Ice House

George Washington’s diaries and letters contain many references to ice and the special structure he built to safeguard the valuable substance. Washington’s design called for a dry well dug into the hillside and encased within an outer wall constructed of wood planks. Between the well and the wall a three-to-four-inch layer of straw was installed as insulation. Dirt and sod provided further insulation. Inside, a ten-foot-long ladder enabled workers to retrieve ice from the well.

Filling the icehouse was a challenging enterprise. In the dead of winter, many of Washington’s enslaved workers had less to do in the fields, so he sent them out in boats to cut blocks from the floating ice in the Potomac. The blocks were then dragged up the hillside and then deposited into the well.

Records imply that Washington was very strongly encouraged to safeguard ice by his wife Martha, who wrote in 1793, “in the warm season Ice is the most agreable [sic] thing we can have.” It is known that the Washingtons enjoyed and served the new, fashionable dessert known as ice cream. Washington’s favorite ice cream flavor remains unknown today.

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