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The Antique Ice Tool Museum: West Chester’s slice of history

Photo courtesy of SimonQ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you’re looking for a place to spend a weekend afternoon, then West Chester’s Antique Ice Tool Museum holds the promise of a fascinating history amidst cool artifacts.

When you first pull into the museum’s parking lot, it looks fairly small – but this is because only the third floor is visible. Going down a small hill and through large gates, you realize there are an additional two floors to the museum hidden by the hill. A single room waiting area, separate from the museum proper, is the first destination for goers. Inside this room you can read up on the history of the natural ice industry: where it began and how it ended, until eventually your tour guide arrives to take you through the museum. Inside the museum, you will find a place unlike anything you have seen – a collection of tools, vehicles, and memorabilia from an industry long past, all located in this one spot, the largest collection in the nation. Ice picks are lined up against the wall, large tongs used to carry blocks of ice hang from the ceiling, horse-drawn carriages that would carry ice are restored and sitting peacefully in the main area – the number of marvelous exhibits is almost exhausting. I was amazed I had never heard of this place before, although the museum has been open for seven years.

The Antique Ice Tool Museum’s history begins in 2009, when owner Peter Stack purchased an abandoned 19th century barn located on 825 Sconnelltown Road. For three years, he went through the process of renovating the old barn – he cleaned out the overgrowth in and around, added structural steel, and installed radiant heat. The museum officially opened in 2012 and has since then participated in various events with the West Chester community.

“The museum is here to support the community,” said Peaches Stack, one of Peter Stack’s three daughters. “There’s been camera clubs through, we’ve been [involved] on Chester County Day, the museum is on the Holiday Home tour in December, so [her mother and father] are very supportive to the community. They’ve never said no to anyone to come on through.”

Functioning as a non-profit, the museum has participated in local parades, tours for clubs and scouts, fundraisers with the local fire company, and collaborations with West Chester University.

The Stacks have been in the ice industry for decades since Peter Stack’s father started his own business at a young age. Peter Stack began helping his father around the age of 10, delivering ice from his father’s carriage to people who needed it. Later, Stack would marry his wife and have children, who  would be transferred around the country while Stackworked for DuPont. Eventually, Stack opened his own ice business in 1975 called the Brandywine Ice Company. He owned this company for 30 years until he sold it off in 2005 to Arctic Glacier. The money he made from this went into building and supporting the museum, as the place is run entirely by the family, taking on no employees.

“There are no employees here,” Peaches Stack said. “No people come to volunteer other than my family. What you see is what you get!” As a non-profit with little advertising, Peter Stack opened the museum to keep the memory of the ice industry alive. Stack’s inclination toward historical preservation might be on point. One of the first things you learn at the museum is that ice was right behind the cotton industry in terms of how much was exported, and how much money it made America, though its history is not usually taught.

Ice would be shipped all around the world, and oftentimes 60 percent of the product would melt away. But it did not matter, because once people realized how important ice was, they could not get enough of it. Ice industries led to innovation in technology and we would not have common household things like freezers and air conditioning without this industry. Go to your freezer and pull out some ice then toss it into the sink. You can waste that ice without giving it much thought because it will just be replaced soon enough, no strings attached. It is a luxury we do not realize we have today, but without ice a lot of our daily needs go out the window.

Ingenuity and innovation: These words are what Peter Stack wants you to keep in mind while going through his museum. Without the natural ice industry, much of what we take for granted today would not exist at all – The Antique Ice Tool Museum exists prepared to remind us.

If you have any curiosity as to what the ice industry was like, or just want to see why this museum is so fascinating, the museum is open for walk-in tours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays throughout May into October. You can also get in contact with the Stacks on the Antique Ice Tool Museum website. They will be happy to show you the place and inform you about one of America’s most important and unrecognized industries.

Dalton Haggerty is an English major with a minor in business and technical writing. DH875990@wcupa.edu

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