Emmeline Machen (at Walney) to Arthur Machen, December 1853"As to the Ice-house I remind James of it daily and indeed almost every time I see him. ? Campbell promised to come today to commence digging it, but has failed to make his appearance. ?Father seems more in favor of it than ever before and has given his consent to its construction on the old site. I do hope that we may this year not only fill one, but obtain one that will keep [sic] filled."
James Machen (at Walney) to Lewis Machen, January 24, 1854"We have been engaged today in getting ice, which, though not very thick, is of fine quality; I hope to make a finish tomorrow. The Ice House is completed all to putting on the shingles; they were brought from the R.R. [sic] to day [sic] & [sic] will be used immediately. After obtaining the Ice [sic] every excertion [sic] will be made to get the corn?"
As we learn from the Machen letter excerpts above, the hole in the ground in front of you is what is left of the foundation of the ice house built in 1854. Emmeline's letter seems to tell us that this ice house may not have been the first one built at this location. The floor of the ice house was about 16 feet below ground so that cool ground temperatures would keep ice from melting during the hot summer months. The stone walls extended above ground several feet, and the building was covered with a wooden roof. For the average farmer, ice harvested from their own pond allowed a family to chill drinks, make ice cream, keep dairy products from spoiling on the way to local markets and preserve food in ice boxes which were commonplace in kitchens by the mid-1800s.
Emmeline Machen (at Walney) to Lewis Machen, February 17, 1858"?Since the snow storm of Saturday, we have sufficient cold weather to make very respectable Ice, & [sic] James has been busily engaged yesterday & to day [sic] in filling the ice house. ?"
Ice harvesting in Virginia would begin as soon as the ice reached 8 to 12 inches think (6 inches in a bad year). It is thought that ice was cut from a pond next to Walney Creek about 400 yards from here and hauled by wagon or sled to the ice house. Blocks of 40 pounds or more were then carefully stacked and straw packed around them for insulation. If the ice house was properly built and the straw well packed, the Machens could have expected their ice to last through the summer and into the next fall. They would have come to the ice house daily to break off a block of ice for use at the farm house.
The Machen ice house burned by the late 1890s. It was never rebuilt. The hole was used as a trash pit in the early 20th century.