Robert Morris’ Ice House

Robert Morris’ Ice House

The Robert Morris Ice House is located at the site of the President's House, on the southeast corner of 6th and Market Street.  If you are at the site, face the Liberty Bell pavilion.  The remains of the Ice House are under the pavilion.

President's House
Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

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Robert Morris' Ice House was part of what eventually became the President's House in Philadelphia. The third U.S. Presidential Mansion, occupied by George Washington, November 1790 – March 1797 and by John Adams, March 1797 – May 1800, while Washington DC and the White House were being built.

An icehouse is a building used to store ice throughout the year. In its most basic form, it is a hole or pit filled with ice and covered with insulation, although designs can get much more advanced. During the winter, ice and snow would be cut from lakes or rivers, taken into the ice house, and packed with insulation (often straw or sawdust), allowing it to remain frozen for many months. This ice would then be used to preserve food, acting like an old-fashioned refrigerator, or the ice would be put in drinks and used to cool down. 

Morris's ice house utilized the 54-degree constant temperature underground. It relied on this natural phenomenon but also on an overwhelming mass of ice, good drainage, and the insulation of the building above the ice pit to provide refrigeration through hot Philadelphia summers. The ice pit was a stone-lined octagon 13 feet in diameter and 18 feet deep. Many tons of ice were cut from a nearby river in winter, transported by wagon to the icehouse, and deposited into the ice pit. The blocks of ice fused into one giant mass. Gravel at the bottom of the pit drained melting water, and thick stone walls and straw insulation minimized heat loss from the icehouse above. Morris claimed that he was able to preserve ice from one winter to the following October or November.  George Washington was a frequent houseguest of the Morrises and seemed to have been fascinated by the icehouse. He built his own at his estate at Mount Vernon, but the ice only lasted until June.

The stone-lined octagonal ice pit of Robert Morris's icehouse was uncovered by archaeologists from John Milner Associates in November 2000. Following the excavation, the pit was reburied and now lies beneath the floor of the Liberty Bell Center.

--compiled by Milosz Krupinski

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