Way Back Wednesday: Ice Harvesting in Traverse City

Ice Harvesting, Shooting Cakes into the House

In the winter of 1912, ice dealers in Traverse City reported that for the first time in history, the ice was too thick to cut!

We suspect it might be the same for the throwback winter of 2014! The above comes from one of our favorite publications for light reading, Industrial Refrigeration (vol. 52-53). There was a time when the winter ice harvest was as critical as any other harvest, allowing folks in Traverse City to enjoy & keep fresh food in summertime. We’ve put together a little photo gallery courtesy the History Center of Traverse City that shows a lot of the steps in the process.

While we don’t have a local account of ice harvesting to share,  Knowlton’s Ice Museum of North America in Port Huron does! This unique museum is dedicated to chronicling what was once a huge industry for Michigan that is now almost forgotten. They explain:

Michigan was one of the main sources of ice harvesting because in those times people cherished the clear hard ice harvested from the beautiful Great Lakes. In the winter months farmers would make money to feed their families by working on the ice fields (rivers, ponds and lakes). Using primitive ice tools they would scrape snow off of the field, measure ice thickness, and saw ice cakes or blocks of ice.

The 300 lb. blocks would then be loaded onto horse drawn flat-bed type wagons and moved off the ice field. The horses hauled the load to stick built ice houses created along rivers and lakes where the ice was stored until the summer months when it could be sold. The ice was stacked and packed inside the ice house. Sawdust was used for insulation and placed in between layers of ice. Some ice houses stored over 1,600 ton of ice. The work these men did each long day was dangerous and cold. Once a luxury, ice became a common household and business commodity by 1900. The ice delivery man would weigh ice blocks and deliver ice by horse drawn covered wagon to homes and businesses. Each order was carried into the home and placed into the top shelf of an ice box to keep food fresh.

We found the above photo from the Detroit Publishing Company via Emily Bingham’s excellent Found Michigan website that has a really nice article about ice harvesting in Michigan. Here’s a video from the Ice Museum that has more: