An Icebox for the Umbarger House

An Icebox for the Umbarger House

Prior to the introduction of mechanical refrigerators in the 1920s, iceboxes were a common fixture in household kitchens to store perishable food. Lined with tin or zinc sheets, and insulated with horsehair, sawdust, or newspaper, iceboxes were kept cool using ice blocks in their top compartments.    

This week, Joe and Shelly Rockom of San Jose donated a vintage 1900s icebox to History San José. They purchased the box many years ago to use as bedroom furniture — often using it as a television cabinet.

Umbarger House Icebox

The icebox has been placed in the kitchen of the Umbarger House, where it will be integrated into our school program Early to Rise: Child’s Work and Play in San José.

About the Umbarger House

Umbarger House at History Park, San Jose, CA
The Umbarger House at History Park

In 1851, David Umbarger, a “forty-niner” from West Virginia, bought 136.5 acres in San Jose, and built this house on his homestead in the 1870s. Like many ex-miners who remained in California, Umbarger started farming in order to make a living, and dedicated his land to wheat and grain production.

After Umbarger died in 1891, his land was divided and sold. The house remained on a six-and-a-half acre lot which transferred ownership several times. In August 1946, thirty-two acres of the remaining land were sold to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. The Umbarger House was moved to History Park in 1970.

Make sure you visit the “kitchen garden” behind the house. This type of garden was a common feature found in the Santa Clara Valley and the Umbargers would have used it for growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Take a virtual tour inside the house as part of History San Jose’s partnership with Google Arts & Culture.