Frozen in time? Not exactly

Frozen in time? Not exactly

Maybe it was the spring weather or the heat of so many eyes eagerly watching, but 126 blocks of ice stored in Gadsbys Taverns historic well melted quickly under the pressure. 
Tavern staff kicked off a contest in February, hauling hundreds of pounds of frozen water up Cameron Street from the citys riverfront, inviting residents to guess how long it would last. In Alexandrias colonial days, tavern proprietor John Gadsby had been known to sell ice into the summer months. 
Contest organizers were not as successful. The last of the ice resumed its liquid state on April 9. Maryland resident Peggy Baker guessed the exact date.
Gretchen Bulova, museum director, believes a window allowing guests to peer down into the well contributed to the quick vanishing act. 
The sun, in a certain part of the day, started beating right on the ice block and that whole one side melted away, Bulova said. Historically, if you didnt have that cutout and far more ice, I could see where it could probably survive the hot summer and last into fall. 
Jim Gay, expert in all things ice in Colonial Williamsburg, can think of a few other factors that might have made the difference, including climate change and proper ice keeping techniques.  
When George Washington was president he was apparently installing an ice house at Mount Vernon and Robert Morris told him to go get big chunks of ice and have them refrozen [into a single block] The reason they had such a hard time of it was because they couldnt get very big pieces of it, Gay said. Think of a New England pond thats covered in ice 12 inches thick thats going to be a big piece. Its going to be a challenge to get it here in Virginia. 
When Washington was struggling to keep his wine cool, the world was experiencing a chill in temperature known as the Little Ice Age. Virginia would still get plenty warm in the summer, but not as steamy as today, Gay said. 
Though they may have had a slightly easier time of it, keeping ice was still a feat. Only the richest and most powerful could afford to build an ice well or icehouse and pay men to cut out and haul chunks of frozen water, he said. 
And until the early 19th century, storing ice and serving treats like ice cream in the summer remained a novelty, Gay said. 
Its a rarity that people had [ice cream]. That becomes the focus of conversation: What did you have when you went to dine with the governor? You had ice cream isnt that spectacular, he said. Think of all the ways human beings controlled fire and you can go back to Homo erectus, but the actual control of ice or the control of cold isnt until the 1880s or the last 150 years or so. Its pretty startling.
Its a perfect example of colonial ingenuity and craftsmanship, said Bulova. Throughout her experiment, the temperature in the well hovered at roughly 41 degrees. Thats about the temperature of a modern refrigerator.
It was really an 18th century refrigerator, she said. Its a testament to their construction and foresight.