Virgin Islands History: A Story About Ice on St. Thomas in 1856

Ice on St. Thomas, Danish West Indies 1856
“The use of ice in St. Thomas, as in all large tropical towns, has become so common that ice is considered an indispensable article in daily housekeeping; every day all reasonably prosperous families receive certain quantity of ice from the Ice House. Only he who has felt the burning rays of the the tropical sun is able to comprehend the refreshing and invigorating experience of enjoying ice chilled beverages, it is generally agreed among doctors that the large consumption of ice has contributed greatly towards improving health conditions. But how is it possible to procure such large quantities of ice when the temperature rarely goes below 25 degrees C., (77 degrees F.) or to keep water frozen here when it so readily evaporates?

“In order to understand this, we must request that the reader accompany us to Wenham Lake near Boston. It has been freezing hard for several days and hundreds of people are busily working on the thick, glacial surface of the ice. Some are engaged in sweeping away the snow, others in sawing six inch deep furrows in the ice into regular blocks. After receiving a strong blow, they fall apart and are transported by horses to the large ice storage house by the shore. When spring arrives, these large blocks of ice are transported in railroad cars to dispatch terminals in Boston. The ships carrying ice are lined with hay or sawdust, and into these are loaded one block right next to another so that the entire cargo forms one large connected mass of ice. In St. Thomas, the ice is kept in local ice houses, large wooden structures with double or triple layered walls, the intervening space filled with ashes or sawdust, which protect completely against the effect of the burning sun rays. In this manner, over 200,00 tons of ice are exported annually from Wenham to the West Indies, Calcutta, Manila, Canton and other places. In Calcutta, a cargo of ice is paid for with a corresponding weight in cotton. There is hardly any place able to compete with Boston over this export commodity, as the ice of this lake resists to an unusual degree the effect of heat. The reason is that the lake receives no effluence of rivers but only that of springs; therefore, the water is extraordinarily clean, and moreover holds a lot of cold as it freezes at a very low temperature. This supply of ice has also brought along another advantage  for the inhabitants of St. Thomas. The prosperous merchant can now, in addition to the produce of the tropics, also provide for his table North American vegetable, fruits. oysters, newly churned butter, etc.”

From: Islands of Beauty and Bounty Translated by Nina York from the publication, “Dansk Vestindien,” 1856

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas DWI 1856
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas DWI 1856
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2 thoughts on “Virgin Islands History: A Story About Ice on St. Thomas in 1856”

  1. Pingback: Virgin Islands History: A Story About Ice on St. Thomas in 1856 … : Cruise News, Information, Booking, Planning and Vacations
  2. I found your article very interesting. I have wondered about that for quite sometime. I have lived in St. Thomas for almost 20 years. Do you have any more information on the subject. Have you ever heard of “Raven Ice”?
    Thank you,
    Cindy Born

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