Historical society demos 19th century PA German ice harvesting at Viriginville farm

Brian Dreibelbis demonstrating 19th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting at the Historic Dreibelbis Farm in Virginville on Feb. 3.
Brian Dreibelbis demonstrating 19th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting at the Historic Dreibelbis Farm in Virginville on Feb. 3. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media
Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society President Mark Dreibelbis holding a chunk of ice from the 19th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting demo he hosted at the Historic Dreibelbis Farm in Virginville on Feb. 3.
Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society President Mark Dreibelbis holding a chunk of ice from the 19th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting demo he hosted at the Historic Dreibelbis Farm in Virginville on Feb. 3. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media

Families and history fans ventured out into the cold to observe a presentation of 19th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting at the Historic Dreibelbis Farm in Virginville on Feb. 3.

The demonstration, hosted by the Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society, included cutting and harvesting ice blocks from the farm’s ice pond, during which the small crowd gathered held their breath and gasped while the old ice harvesting tools broke through the ice. When a chunk of cut ice was hauled to the surface, everyone cheered.

This was the Society’s fifth Ice Harvest Demonstration. Mark Dreibelbis, society president, was the event host; Brian Dreibelbis led the ice cutting at the ice pond; and Ned Dresher, society vice president, explained the ice house at the old stone building that remains standing.

“This is an educational event, demonstrating a key task of the winter-time 19th century farmer. It fits our purpose to celebrate educational, historical, and environmental facets of the historic Dreibelbis farm,” said Dresher. “Many Pennsylvania German farms had ice ponds and ice houses, but most have disappeared. Very few folks living today have personal memories of this activity.”

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Dresher said that the society hopes visitors appreciate the hardships faced by Berks County farmers of the last two centuries.

“Get a chance to see and use a few of the tools necessary to harvest ice, and take in the wintry beauty of the fields and lanes of the Dreibelbis Historic Farm,” said Dresher. “I particularly enjoy seeing children sawing the ice and wrestling with the cut ice.”

The event, open to the public, included horse draw wagon rides to and from the Virginville Grange parking lot, nature trail, a campfire, hot chocolate and homemade chicken noodle soup kept warm in a pot over a campfire.

“Nearly every farm had provisions for harvesting ice for the primary purpose of cooling milk from their dairy herds. It was hard work and often people would come together to work to get the harvest in,” said Mark Dreibelbis. “I hope attendees learned the historical methods and the importance of harvesting ice. Perhaps also a bit of how hard people had to work for what today seems so simple.”

His favorite part of hosting the event “is the genuine interest and curiosity that people have for the event and also the appreciation for the farm and our mission to preserve it.”

For more information visit www.Dreibelbisfarm.org or “Historic Dreibelbis Farm” on Facebook.

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.