A milk house, also known as a spring house, is a small dependency designed to use cool water or ice to preserve dairy products and prevent fresh milk from absorbing odors associated with plantation agricultural activities. The spring house was not only used for storing milk, but also as a site for churning it into butter. This structure also stored other perishable items such as eggs and potatoes. Spring water descending from a nearby hill provided adequate cooling for dairy stored in crocks.
The milk house was likely built prior to the Civil War with heavy plaster walls for insulation to keep out the heat. Studies of the structure’s architecture demonstrate that the interior plaster walls included horse hair as a bonding agent. Most early spring houses, like this one, had gabled roofs and a painted, rough-hewn timber façade. Those visiting during hours of operation are encouraged to explore the interior fittings of this antebellum structure.
Ice houses are often conflated with spring houses, but they are, in fact, built differently. The ice house was dug underground with completely enclosed sides and a covered top to protect the ice from the sun, slowing the melting process tremendously. During the winter, chunks of ice could be cut from shallow ponds and then laid on straw strewn across the structure’s earthen floor. After gathering enough ice to cover the floor of the ice house, another layer of straw would be brought in and placed on top of the ice blocks. This process continued until the ice house was completely full. By using this method, it was not uncommon for some ice blocks to last until May or June.