The Rehoboth Museum resides in a historic building, the Old Ice House, that played a significant commercial and social role in the development of Rehoboth Beach at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.
During the late nineteenth century, businesses and residents of Rehoboth Beach began using ice to preserve perishable foods and to cool drinks. Ice was cut from Silver Lake during winter months and stored in small, wooden buildings that were heavily insulated with sawdust. This supply of ice would usually be available from May through October. Later, ice was shipped into the city by railroad. Records show that in 1909 there were 15 small ice houses in Delaware. John A. Lingo constructed the first ice house at the location of the Museum in 1912. He used the ice to preserve meat, dairy products and other perishables in his market which was located at Baltimore Avenue at First Street and to deliver the ice to customers around town.
Through the years, the wooden building was subject to mold and rot and required extensive maintenance. In 1925 the two story brick structure, which became known as “The Old Ice House”, was built. By this time, harvesting of ice from Silver Lake had stopped but ice continued to be brought into town by train where it was stored in the Old Ice House. In 1927, the building was wired for electricity and this allowed ice manufacturing to begin. This operation ran 24 hours per day and could produce up to 14 tons of ice per day. All of the ice continued to be stored and distributed from the Old Ice House.
The business became very successful and manufacturing continued at full capacity until the late 1940’s when electric refrigerators became available and popular for businesses and residences. By the mid 1950’s the ice manufacturing business was no longer profitable and the Old Ice House was closed. Except for being used as a temporary storage facility from time to time, The Old Ice House remained vacant until it was sold for non-tax payment at a sheriff’s sale in 1978. William (Butch) McQuay bought the property for $40,000. He originally planned to raze the building and construct apartments but this plan never materialized. McQuay did add single story additions onto the structure. In 1982, he opened a liquor store in the building which he operated until his death in 1998. New owners continued to operate the liquor store business under a lease arrangement with Mcquay’s estate. When Mrs. McQuay decided to sell the property, the City of Rehoboth Beach purchased it for $385,000. The liquor store’s lease did not expire until near the end of 2002 and although the City intended to honor the terms of the leas, there was some concern about the signage on the building. This concern was amicably resolved when the operators agreed to change the name of their business from the Rehoboth Liquor sore to the Old Ice House Liquor Store.
Almost immediately after the City became the owners of the Old Ice House, the Rehoboth Beach Historical society entered into discussions with them about establishing a museum in the building. In November 2002, the City entered into a 50 year lease agreement with the Historical Society to establish the Rehoboth Beach Museum. The terms of the lease were actually a partnership with the rent being $1.00 per year, the City paying the electric bills for the building and being responsible for the grounds.
A professional museum architectural firm was hired to design the building as we see it today. Construction actually began in June of 2006 and the Museum was opened to the public in November 2007.