The Ice House. A pink, part-circular, wedding cake-like building on the Chennai sea front. It hasn't stored ice for well over a century. But that's how this extraordinary building is still generally known.
It was built in 1842 - one of three ice houses in India established by the Boston-based 'ice king' Frederic Tudor, and the only one of the three to survive. And yes, it really did store ice, transported all the way from New England.
Tudor hit on the idea of harvesting ice from the freshwater lakes of New England (it was after all free), using sawdust for insulation, and then sending the ice out from Boston where ships often travelled empty to the Caribbean and further afield. Yes, a lot of the ice melted - but enough made the journey, and was sufficiently prized, to earn a profit. A decent profit to judge by the splendour of this building.
The poet and essayist Henry David Thoreau saw ice being harvested for Tudor at Walden Pond in the winter of 1846-7. 'The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well', Thoreau wrote. 'This pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.'
By the 1880s, the long distance ice business declined as other ways of making ice came to prominence. The Ice House changed use. In 1897, Swami Vivekananda stayed in the building during a crucial period in his preaching, having just returned from the Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
The building is now known as Vivekananda House and houses an exhibition about the man. That's cool! But then, this place is built to be cool..
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