Ice Harvest | A Continuous Lean.

Ice Harvest

Dec 26th, 2010 | Categories: History, Photography | by Michael Williams


Back in the days before the modern convenience of refrigeration, this is how people keep their food (read: their beer) ice cold. Men would harvest blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds with a horse & plow and giant saw. Workers would then load the slabs of ice into a spring house or an icehouse to sell to people for use in their ice boxes at home.


The Library of Congress has a series of photos from the Detroit Publishing Co. (c.1900-1910), documenting a winter’s harvest and the journey of the ice straight from frozen lake to wooden storage shed. It is a pretty fantastic process to see and very fitting when you consider the cold weather that a lot of the U.S. has been having as of late. Also amazing to think about what we take for granted these days.

Nice Chore Coat on this gent, though it doesn't seem too warm.

Comments: 14

14 Comments to “Ice Harvest”

  1. Dave
    on Dec 26th, 2010
    @ 9:48 PM

    The horse and plow, awesome.

  2. Andrea
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 12:05 AM

    Maine ice was considered premium quality and was shipped down to NYC. Not only beer, but the very great luxury of ice-cream was completely dependent upon a good supply of ice.

  3. rebecca
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 3:49 AM

    wow, the ice industry has come so far! now we’re lucky enough to have those lip-shaped ice trays from ikea :)

  4. Ramalhoni
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 5:52 AM

    Once more Great Pics, where do you get them????

    Amazing….

  5. K.A. Adams
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 1:28 PM

    Until the day she died, my grandmother called the ‘refrigerator’ the ice box

  6. DS
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 1:40 PM

    I wonder how many of those dudes fell in.

  7. N.
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 3:16 PM

    Great pictures!

    Did you know that for over decade ice was America’s largest export?

    Ice harvested in upstate New York would be shipped as far away as India, with losses of less than 50% of mass in transit.

    Sawdust was used to pack and insulate the blocks for the long journeys, which led increased demand and a boom in woodworking and other sawdust producing industries.

  8. Larry
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 3:27 PM

    I do this every January in Ely… we still use the horse and sleigh and those same saws to cut the ice (it’s quite a workout). Once we heave and pull the ice onto the lake, we cut the sheets into smaller blocks, knock off the top layer (called sludge) and have a crystal clear ice block. We then stack the blocks onto a sleigh and two Clydesdales carry it up a hill. We stack the ice in a cedar shed built into the side of a hill (to maintain a constant temp) and pack everything with sawdust. Ice stays as the only form of refrigeration throughout the year. After we work our asses off, we make igloos and sculptures and light them up with candles. The most important piece is the “booze luge” in which we make a trail through an ice block, pour booze in one end and mouth at the other!

    This event is a great way to share the idea that we can actually sustain without electricity for ice and refrigeration (with just some hard work and a little help from me friends).

  9. Toby Wollin
    on Dec 27th, 2010
    @ 8:19 PM

    Laura Ingalls Wilder detailed this entire process in her book, “Farmer Boy” which was about her husband, Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood in Massena, New York on his family farm.

  10. JB
    on Dec 28th, 2010
    @ 3:08 PM

    My family was in the ice cutting business in Athens, NY, on the Hudson River, in the early 1900s. Heard some good stories, though I never saw it in-the-real. Great pix Michael.

  11. Matt
    on Dec 28th, 2010
    @ 8:27 PM

    My friend Walter McCoy likes to tell about the time he was working on such an operation on Heart Pond in Hancock Co. Maine. He was walking backwards, pulling a long narrow row of ice blocks with his pick pole. Not paying attention, he walked straight, while the edge of the ice made a 90 degree turn. He went right in, backwards.

    Walter claims that he was so startled and frightened when he went in, that he caught the edge of the cut and launched himself back up onto the ice and ran sputtering and gasping to the office/shack and began peeling off layers. By the time he got down to his long underwear, he realized that the inner layers of his clothes were, by and large, still dry.

  12. jfox
    on Jan 3rd, 2011
    @ 9:57 AM

    cannot get enough of ice house / delivery / harvesting stuff. + best for 2011.

  13. jfox
    on Jan 3rd, 2011
    @ 9:58 AM

    i think the sawdust also served to stop the ice from sticking into 1 huge block.

  14. TedTNJ
    on Jan 15th, 2011
    @ 10:24 PM

    Ice was harvested from Rockland Lake, Congers, NY:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

    Then is was stored to the east and as required hauled by horses over the hill and down to the Hudson. Here the ice was put on barges and taken to NYC.

    Scouts doing Eagle Scout projects have restored some of the ice storage facilities.