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Ice Harvesting


This is a good time of the year to think about what used to be a big industry in the Town of Bethlehem. It was cutting ice out of the Hudson River, storing it in ice houses for local use and sending it down by barge to New York City. There used to be about 134 ice houses up and down the river. In a good season they cut as much as 2 million tons of ice out of the river. They have a fancy name today when they talk about this industry - it is called “Ice Harvesting”.

Not too far from where our Association building is located there was a big ice house. When you drive down Barent Winnie Road on your way to the Henry Hudson Park you will notice on your left side on top of a hill the big white house that was built in 1907 as a summer house for then Governor of New York, Martin Glynn. Going on down the road on the left you will notice 2 stone lions. They were there at the entrance to the J.B. Lyon’s estate which no longer exists because it was destroyed in a fire. Going down the road on the right side is a very big white house. This was the home of the owner of the Ice House. His name was George Best. His ice house was located just down the road on the river. George Best was a lumberman who came to this area from Saratoga to build a home and start an ice business. When Mr. Best died in 1918, his widow sold the business to another ice man - Mr. Schifferdicker.

In our Tollgate building we have some ice equipment and there is a letter in there written by Mr. Schifferdicker’s son, G. B. Schifferdicker. I think very few people have taken time to read it, so we are going to publish it in this issue for you to read and to picture what it looked like when the ice business was big in the Town of Bethlehem.

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ICE AND ICE HOUSES By: G. B. Schifferdicker

Bill Waldbilling asked me to write about the ice business along the Hudson River. When my father’s ice house burned in 1925, I was only seven years old, so you can see my memory is dim.

My grandfather, Charles F. Schifferdicker, started our ice business in the late 1880’s or earlier. I believe my father took over about 1910.

About all of the stored ice of that period was harvested from the river, but when the Troy dam was built and the river was deepened and little by little pollution set in, many of the ice companies made artificial lakes five to eight feet deep and took their ice from these sources.

I can recall only three of these ponds, as they were called, Kelly’s in Kenwood, where crushing plant is now, my father and one in front of Mrs. Mable Thorn’s house.

My father’s pond was filled each fall by 18 inch wooden pipe line running from a dam (still there) across the Vlaumanskill creek (at Cedar Hill) in front of the J.B. Lyon’s farm house. This pond covered 20-30 acres. In the spring of the year the pond was drained and corn was raised on the rich flat bottoms.

Of course ice cutting depended mainly on cold weather usually mid-December and January. The lightest ice my father would take was 10 inches thick.

I remember cakes of ice cloudy on top (snow ice) and clear on the bottom. Snow ice was made by tapping the ice field thru the snow. Tapping was done by driving a sharply pointed iron bar at an angle thru thin (3-4 inches) ice. These bars weighed 10-14 lbs. Water would come through the holes in the ice and flood the snow which froze and made thicker ice.

During ice cutting I think my father hired about 40 men more or less. I imagine there are a lot of men still around who work on the ice. (Mr. Henry Meyer)

A day work of cutting and storing ice was a long one, daylight to dark, about 9-10 hours and it was hard work.

Sometimes additional snow had to be scrapped off the ice field by large horse drawn scrapers. Cutting the ice in the field was done by gasoline driven circular saws pulled by two men. This saw was mounted on sled runners and pulled easily.

Cakes of ice about 10’ x 12’ (I’m not sure of the size) were cut and barred loose to be pike-poled up on open canal to what were known as basin saw’s. There were two sets of these set at right angles to each other. These saws were a series of gang saws with 40” circular blades driven by huge electric motors (I couldn’t even guess the horsepower?)

The first set of saws were 24” apart, the second set were 36” apart. The large cakes of ice were poled through the first set of saws which cut several strips nearly through the ice. Then without turning the large cake it was run through the other set of saws which gave you several cakes of ice 24” x 36”. These cakes were then barred apart sent up the elevator and into the ice house to be stored in tiers with a layer of salt hay between each tier.

Salt hay came from the Atlantic coast salt marshes and was used because it did not rot.

In the summer ice barges would come up river from New York City and tied up at the dock on the river side of the ice house.

These barges were quite large as I remember about 25’ x 60 to 70’ and about 7’ deep. The stored ice was barred loose in the ice house, sent down a run and loaded into the barges and sent on its way. I believe the company my father did business with was the Knickerbocker Ice Co. of New York City.

Of course in Grandfather’s day the ice was delivered house to house, to saloons and markets by horse and wagon. I think the early 1900’s they had some of the liberty chain drive trucks.

This is just a small bit about the ice business. Just about every town and village along the river had one or more ice house. In this era there were houses at VanWies Point-Wheeler, Schmidt- - Paar Island (in the back of the old Abbey Inn on the river side - Staat Island across the river, Sunny-side across the river, Schodack across the river and so on down. On the side Schifferdicker, Baker Coeymans, Coxsackie, Catskill, Athens and on and on.

Of course with the coming of artificial ice and electric refrigerators natural ice was no longer needed, so there ended a multi-million dollar business.

Many of the old ice houses were used to grow mushrooms such as Frangella of Coeymans and Knaust of Catskill.

Pop always said natural ice was best because it melted slower.

Hope you can make sense out of this. I can’t. Jerry

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You can learn more about the ice business by renting our video or DVD entitled “Ice Harvesting” with Henry Meyer telling more about what it was like when he worked the ice in that Ice House for both Mr. Best and Mr. Schifferdicker.

Images of Local History -Normansville

By Glaen B. Ritchie

The second western Albany satellite community, located farther along the upper course of the Normanskill from the now vanished “Kenwood”, is sited on an ancient Native American migration corridor.

The settlement, originally named, “the hamlet of upper Hollow”, eventually was to be called, “Normansville”.

Along this route, the Normanskill has channeled to the bedrock, creating the falls that produced water power for 19th century entrepreneurs.

The opening of the Albany and Delaware Turnpike, and the Normanskill Bridge, together with this adjacent water power, stimulated light industrial development. After the 18209’s on both sides of the creek, above and below the bridge, production facilities for wood products, textiles, plaster, and paper materials were constructed. Eventually, these entities were, for various economic and environmental reasons, to fail with their remains, subsequently, disappearing.

The turnpike and bridge were also transformed over this period. From the conduit, linking Normansville with the westward expanding Capital District economy, these two transportation modes became morphologically engineered extension of Greater Albany, tending to diminish and alienate the recessed community into socioeconomic seni-9solation.

Howell and Tenney (1886) enumerated Normansville as, “17 dwellings, 22 families, 100 inhabitants”. A 1996 Albany Times Union article described the community as “about two dozen homes… most occupied by several family members…”.

Clearly, Normansville has residentially trumped a century of change with continuity, enduring into the 21stcentury, as a self-sustained community.

Genealogy Corner Winter 2008/2009

By Art Young, Committee Chairman

Today I would like to take you through a short trip about immigrants arriving in New York. There was very little regulation of immigration when the first big wave of five million people came to America just after the war of 1812.

Passengers simply got off the ship at whatever wharf it tied up to, made whatever declarations that were necessary and went on their way. It was not until 1820 that they were recorded on passenger arrival lists. The Irish potato famine, 1846-1850, plus the political upheavals in Europe caused some 1912 ships to disembark some 212,796 passengers onto the streets of New York City by 1850.

The city had become seriously over-burdened, resulting in the first State run immigration depot at Castle Garden in 1855. Castle Garden, near Battery Park off the tip of Manhattan, operated from 1 August 1855 to 18 April 1890. Between ten and twelve million passengers were processed at Castle Garden and are listed on the manifest of ships in chronological order as the ships arrived in New York. Castle Garden now contains a museum and is the departure point for visitors to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

In 1890 when the Federal Government assumed control of immigration, New York refused to allow it to use Castle Garden and Congress appropriated $75,000 to build an immigration station on Ellis Island. While construction was being completed, the Barge office at 6the foot of Whitehall Street was used and some 405,664 immigrants were processed there from 19 April 1890 to 31 December 1891. Ellis Island opened on 1 January 1892 and processed about 1.5 million passengers until the night of 14 June 1807 when a fire destroyed all of the buildings. Processing was transferred back to the Barge Office from 15 June 1897 to 16 December 1900, while a new brick building designed to process 5,000 passengers a day was being constructed on Ellis Island.

This new building opened on 17 December 1900 with only steerage passengers being taken for inspection. First and second class passengers were processed by officials coming on board soon after the ship docked. All passengers were listed on manifests prepared by the steamship companies. A piece of paper was pinned to the jacket of each steerage passenger showing the page and line number where the person appeared on the list. Public Health Officials watched as the immigrants climbed the stairs from the baggage area to the Great Hall, noting any who wheezed, coughed, shuffled or limped. Following a cursory medical exam, symbols were chalked on the clothing of potentially sick immigrants. Class A conditions were either deported or held in the 275 bed hospital. In 1911 a contagious disease hospital was opened where more than 3,000 people died. In 1907 the peak year, 1,004,756 immigrants arrived. They were all asked 29 questions. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were likely to become a public charge. By 1924 over 34 million immigrants had come to America.

The National Origins act of 1924 marked the end of mass immigration and created quotas based on our 1920 Federal Census. Future immigrants were processed at US consulates overseas and Ellis Island became a detention center for aliens and a processing center for WWII displaced persons. On 12 November 1954, after some 62 years of service, Ellis Island closed its doors and the 33 buildings were declared exceed federal property. Some 30 years later the not-for-profit Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation raised funds to restore the main building which was opened to the public in 1990. Records of both Castle Garden and Ellis Island are open to the public on their web sites.

A Short History of Tinsmithing

by William McMillen, Master Tinsmith

The tinsmith has been plying his trade in America since 1720. Colonial tin products were made of imported tinplate. England banned the production of tinplate in the colonies, thus restricting the amount of goods the colonists could produce. Tinplate is thin steel that has been dipped several times into molten tin. (When you see rust on a piece of tin ware it is because the tinplate has worn away or a cut in the metal has exposed the steel which has rusted.)

Colonial tinsmiths used tinplate, wire, solder, and a few simple tools to produce their wares. When tinplate was finally produced in America in the early 1800's the products of the tinsmith became more widely available. They, in turn, saw an increase in demand and a need to speed up production. This brought about the development of many ingenious hand powered machines which sped up production and helped the tinsmith meet the demands for his products. The goods were "brought to market" by peddlers traveling from village to village. Tinsmiths also had individual shops where they would ply their trade – often taking on apprentices to help further the business. 

Images of Local History - Kenwood

By Galen B. Ritchie -- SUMMER 2008

In 1886, Albany celebrated the bicentennial of receiving its Charter of Municipal Incorporation. To mark, this event, an official bicentennial history of Albany County was issued, edited by George R. Howell and Jonathon Tenney.

To initiate my discussion of features drawn from Howell and Tenney’s history, I am focusing on the oldest of the western Albany satellite settlements, “the hamlet of Kenwood”. Also known as “lower Hollow”, Kenwood reportedly, received its name from the local resident and mill-owner, Joel Rathbone, after a similar locality in Scotland.

A mid-nineteenth century publication on New York State, identified Kenwood, as “…a small village near the mouth of Normans Kil….” In 1886, Howell and Tenney, specifically, located Kenwood just below the falls near where the Normanskill enters the Hudson River.

Occupation of this site dated from the same period as the settlement of Albany. At this location, the Dutch, reportedly established a small fort (1618). Subsequently (1630?), a mill was built by Albert Andriesen Bradt de Noorman. His surname, “de Noorman”, was eventually modified to “Normans Kil”, and given to the adjacent stream. This area was ethnologically associated with a place contemporary Mahican Indians called “Tawasentha”. There is additional archaeological evidence of extended early occupation.

It was not until after the American Revolution, that Kenwood received enhanced light industrial development. The VanRensselaer family built several mills which replaced the remains of the Dutch-colonial mill. Subsequently, other entrepreneurs began to establish their businesses in the Normanskill area.

In 1886 Kenwood, residentially, consisted of sixteen homes, serviced by a Baptist chapel, a store, a school and a blacksmith’s shop. The population numbered thirty-six (36) families, totaling one hundred fifty (150) persons. Transportation to Albany was provided by the Albany-Bethlehem Turnpike, which passed through Kenwood and a horsecar track, maintained by the Albany Railway Col, extending from South Pearl Street to the Kenwood Bridge.

Throughout the nineteenth (19th) century, Kenwood remained, essentially, an agricultural community, in contrast to the increasingly industrializing city of Albany. This contrast is pictured in a small engraving, entitled “Albany, from Kenwood”. In this print, the view is looking north and east toward the city and the port of Albany with the Hudson River beyond. The foreground shows a farmer, with his produce-filled, four-wheel cart, yoked to two oxen. They are heading southward. Their backs are to the industrial smoke and haze rising from the Albany area. In the background, a railway locomotive (the symbol of mid-nineteenth century technical development) belching steam and smoke, is pulling a train westward, parallel with the Normanskill. This image illustrates the rural-urban relationship described in Howell and Tenney’s prose.

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