Ice Harvesting: A Tradition Revisited- Erin Gurry
In the 1800s many of the northern states were harvesting ice
as a way to keep things cool throughout the year. In
Pennsylvania the abundance of clean, unpolluted rivers, lakes
and ponds made it an ideal location. Originally farmers found
cutting and storing ice would bring in extra income and they
sold the blocks to local residents, boardinghouses and hotels.
As time went on, the business grew and farmers expanded
their clientele. Soon ice was being harvested and then sent by
rail to larger cities like Philadelphia and New York. A little
research guided me toward the local festivals devoted to
remembering this heritage of the land.

Millpond #1, in a small town called Tobyhanna, is home to an
annual ice harvest. The assembly is lead by some dedicated
members of the society eager to introduce ice harvesting to
new comers. Visitors are encouraged to take part and lend a
hand in the cutting, floating, and packing of the ice. Only the
skilled veterans of previous years are trusted with the task of
cutting the main lines using the 1919 gas powered 36 inch
saw blade.

To begin the process, a sled with saws for runners is pulled
from the edge of the pond toward a deeper section creating a
channel through which the ice "cakes" will travel. The deeper
pond water produces the more desirable ice as it tend to be
clearer, more dense and with less air bubbles. It is here that
the 1919 saw proceeds by scoring the main cut lines. Next,
volunteers use the authentic hand saws to cut 21 x 21 inch
cakes which are then maneuvered toward land through the
channel. Between the ice house, used for storage, and the
pond edge is a sturdy ramp. Volunteers use ice pikes, hooked
metal poles, to gather three or four ice cakes together to begin
their ascent up the ramp. Horse power, in this case a
neighbor's Belgian horse, is then used to tow the ice blocks up
the ramp where workers send them into the ice house.

They are stored in a small, wooden building (most were
whitewashed to reflect the sunlight). In earlier times the cakes
were sometimes transferred to rail car, or in some cases
barges, to await shipment to larger cities. The volunteers pack
the ice in layers, with each layer receiving a plentiful covering
of sawdust and straw for insulation.

Behind the ice house a group of men tinker with an antique ice
cream maker. Workers and spectators are welcome to try the
ice cream as a sort of payment for their time. Volunteers are
also permitted to use the ice throughout the year. They are
encouraged to return next year to continue the ice harvesting
tradition that helped shape early Pennsylvania tourism and

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