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Questions — GW Underground: New Archaeological Finds in Philadelphia

Washington added this to the end of his letter to Robert Morris on June 2, 1784:

"P.S. The house I filled with ice does not answer—it is gone already—if you will do me the favor to cause a description of yours to be taken—the size—manner of building, & mode of management, & forwarded to me—I shall be much obliged—My house was filled chiefly with Snow, have you ever tried Snow? do you think it is owing to this I am lurched."

(excerpt of Robert Morris' reply below)

1. Robert Morris wrote back, describing his ice house at length. Read through his description. Using the details Morris provides, attempt your own drawing of the icehouse.
2. Why would archaeologists want to have a copy of this letter as they were digging near the site of the Morris house?

Philada June 15th 1784

Dear Sir

[...] My Ice House is about 18 feet deep and 16 Square, the bottom is a Coarse Gravell & the Water which drains from the Ice soaks into it as fast as the Ice melts, this prevents the necessity of a Drain which if the bottom was a Clay or Stiff Loom would be necessary and for this reason the side of a Hill is preferred generally for digging an Ice House, as if needful a drain can easily be cut from the bottom of it, through the side of the Hill to let the Water run out. The Walls of my Ice House are built of Stone without Mortar (which is called a Dry Wall) untill within a foot and a half of the Surface of the Earth when Mortar was used from thence to the Surface to make the top more binding and Solid--When this wall was brought up even with the Surface of the Earth I stopped there and then dug the foundation for another Wall two foot back from the first, and about two feet deep, this done the foundation was laid so as to enclose the whole of the Walls built on the inside of the Hole where the Ice is put and on this foundation is built the Walls which appear above ground and in mine they are about ten foot high, On these the Roof is fixed, these Walls are very thick, built of Stone and Mortar, afterwards rough Cast on the outside. I nailed a Cieling of Boards under the Roof flat from Wall to Wall, and filled all the Space between that Cieling and the Shingling of the Roof with Straw, so that the Heat of the Sun Cannot possibly have any Effect. In the Bottom of the Ice House I placed some Blocks of Wood about two foot long and on these I laid a plat form of Common fence Rails Close enough to hold the Ice & open enough to let the Water pass through; thus the Ice lays two foot from the gravel and of Course gives room for the Water to soak away gradually without being in contact with the Ice, which if it was for any time would waste it amazingly. The upper Floor is laid on joists placed across the top of the Inner wall and for greater security I nailed a Cieling under those joists and filled the Space between the Cieling & Floor with Straw. The Door for entering this Ice House from the north, a Trap Door is made in the middle of the Floor through which the Ice is put in and taken out--I find it best to fill with Ice which as it is put in should be broke into small peices and pounded down with heavy Clubs or Battons such as Pavers use, if well beat it will after a while consolidate into one solid mass, and require to be cut out with a Chizell or Axe--I tryed Snow one year and lost it in June--The Ice keeps untill October or November and I beleive if the Hole was larger so as [to ho]ld more it would keep untill Christmass, the closer it is packed the bett[er i]t keeps & I beleive if the Walls were lined with Straw between the Ice a[n]d stone it would preserve it much, the melting begins next the Walls and Continues round the Edge of the Body of Ice throughout the Season. [1] Mrs Morris joins me in our best Compliments to Mrs Washington & yourself and I beg to return Mrs Washington my thanks for her kind present which will be very useful to me next winter. I am Dear Sir Your most Obedt hble servt

Robt Morris

P .S. Thatch is the best covering for an Ice House.


1. GW rebuilt his icehouse at Mount Vernon along the lines that Morris suggests here. See the Annual Report (1939), pp. 30-31, of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. See also GW to Morris, 2 June.

GW's initial letter to Morris dated 2 June 1784 from Mt. Vernon LS, DLC:GW. Letter reprinted in W.W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 1, January-July 1784 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 450-52.