Ice Melt Contest to Benefit Historic Ice Well Preservation

Page archived as of November 23, 2015

Historic Ice WellHow long can ice stored in an 18th-century well in the middle of Old Town Alexandria last? Guess correctly and you could win some nice ice of your own with prizes including a diamond bracelet and Waterford crystal.

To raise money to preserve its historic ice well, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is kicking off its Ice Melt Contest on Sunday, February 20. The underground ice well will be stocked with several tons of ice and participants are invited to guess how long it will take to completely melt. The event begins at 2 p.m., as a block of ice is hauled from the Alexandria waterfront at the end of Cameron Street to the ice well at the corner of North Royal and Cameron streets. Once the ice block reaches the ice well around 2:30 p.m., visitors will be able to view the stocked ice well, purchase contest tickets, learn about the importance of ice in the 18th century and talk with George Washington outside the very tavern where he dined and danced.

Contest tickets may be purchased for $10 apiece or six for $50, and with each chance, contestants will select the latest date this year when ice will still be present in the 11-foot-deep well. A webcam will allow contestants and others to peek in on the progress, and as ice gives way to water, replica artifacts once frozen in the ice will be revealed. First, second and third place prizes will be awarded to those who guess closest to the correct date.

In 1793, the Alexandria Common Council granted permission for tavern owner John Wise to build an ice well under Cameron Street, partially in the public right-of-way.  Harvested from the frozen Potomac River in the winter, ice was hauled by cart to the tavern and stored in the ice well.  Ice was formed into a solid mound and covered with straw to help it last into the summer hot months. While often taken for granted today, the availability of ice helped to distinguish Gadsby’s Tavern as one of the finest of its kind in the late 18th century.

Today the ice well feature is a fascinating part of Alexandria’s history and an important part of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s interpretation of travel and hospitality in the early years of our country. But the ice well is in need of extensive restoration that will cost an estimated $300,000. While some funding has come from grants and donations, museum officials hope the Ice Melt Contest will raise needed funds as well as awareness of this unique resource.

Tickets will first be available to the public on Sunday and can be purchased at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum or online. First prize is a white and black diamond bracelet valued at $1,600, second prize is a Waterford “Lismore” crystal ice bucket and glasses, and third prize is a $200 gift certificate to the PX Lounge in Old Town Alexandria. Full contest rules are posted at

For more information, call 703.746.4242 or visit