Ice Well Renovation

About Mr. Gadsby's Ice Well

1792: local businessman John Wise built the finest lodging facility in Alexandria, which he called the City Tavern. Among the amenities Wise chose to include was a ready supply of ice. Not an easy task before refrigeration. Those who could afford ice used it to chill beverages, preserve perishable foods, and even make a new popular dessert of the day: ice cream. While this ice well was not unique in Alexandria, it was considered enormous, measuring over 17 feet in diameter and over 11 feet deep at its lowest point. When fully loaded, the well could store up to 68 tons of ice, supplying the tavern and even the citizens of Alexandria. In 1805, when John Gadsby was leasing the tavern from John Wise, Gadsby had enough ice in June to be able to advertise ice for sale at eight cents per pound .

1972: After the American Legion donated the Museum to the City of Alexandria, a major restoration effort was launched to restored and stabilize this long-neglected piece of urban history. To make the interior visible to the public a section of the ice well was removed providing a glass cutaway. More information about the ice well can be found on the Museum's Ice Well page.

2012: GTMS led a campaign to raise funding to restore the deteriorating ice well by holding events, finding donors, and hosting a number of other fun ice well related contests.

The Ice Melt Contest

Ice harvesting was a difficult process. Once it was cut from the frozen Potomac River in mid-winter it was hauled by cart up to the City Tavern for storage. After being put in the well, the ice was formed into a solid mound of large ice blocks and covered with straw to preserve it for use through the summer months. But how long would an ice mound last in the current ice well? GTMS helped the Museum staff find out. Society members helped push a symbolic cart of ice blocks up from the waterfront. Since the river now rarely freezes, the ice was commercially produced. Then to make it interesting (and profitable) we held a contest in which paying participants could guess when the last of the ice would melt in order to win prizes. The top prize appropriately enough was ice -- a diamond.

The Pet Brick Contest

When the restoration was done in the early 1970's as part of the City's preparations for the Bicentennial, some new bricks had to be added to help stabilize the ice well. The bricks were made by a now defunct Alexandria company. In the early stages of the 2012-2013 restoration, those bricks were removed. Some were sold as souvenirs as "Bicentennial Bricks" and some became entries in the Pet Brick Contest. Here are some of the very clever entries:

Bicentennial Brick Sale

The Ice Well Restoration Begins

Ironically, the restoration was officially kicked off on a 100-degree day June 2012 when many of the attendees had been without air conditioning or rebbfrigeration due to the recent Derecho -- a weather phenomenon few people had ever heard of before experiencing it. With Mr. Gadsby, George Washington, the Mayor and other City and OHA officials, the ice well renovation was finally underway after over 4 years of fund-raising, legal wrangles, and other complications. Speeches were given and banners were unfurled.