Ice delivered to ice box, approx. 1930
Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Cutting ice with one-man saws, probably Watertown MN, 1947
Credit: Minnesota Historical Society

The Resort Years

Winter Harvest

     Until refrigerators became affordable to average families, food was stored in an ice box, cooled with a large block of ice. Vendors sold large blocks of ice off the back of a wagon or truck, using large tongs to hoist the big blocks of ice up onto their shoulder to be carried inside.

     From the late 19th century to the 1950’s, ice harvesting was a major industry in Minnesota. It was the leading winter industry in western Hennepin County until about 1925. Harvesting ice from Lake Independence was the primary winter occupation for Independence Beach’s few year-round residents.  Ice harvesting was a labor-intensive activity so jobs for strong men were abundant at ice harvest time. Until around the mid-thirties, additional labor was provided by migrant Indians who lived in this area, moving to different locations when the seasons changed. During the ice harvest, Indians sometimes stayed in the cottages at Maple Hill Farm. 

     Ice harvesting on Lake Independence involved using a large one-man saw to cut 200 lbs. cubes of ice from the lake. The ice harvest usually began in January. The ice had to be at least 16 inches thick before harvesting could begin. During severe cold weather, the ice could become too thick to cut.

     The blocks of ice were hauled out of the lake and stored in ice houses. The layers of ice were covered with sawdust and would usually last thru summer. There were several ice houses in Independence Beach. 

     The Wilson family (owners of Wilson’s Resort) had an ice house in what is now the Lake Ardmore Nature Area, north of Lake Ardmore. (It's wooded now but was a grassy field at that time.) John Wilson (4595 Walnut) remembers working with his uncle, Ken Painter, selling ice to neighborhood residents and weekend visitors. 

     After electricity was installed in 1933, refrigerators were available but expensive, so many cabin owners still relied on ice boxes until the mid-40’s, when artificial ice was available for household use and electric refrigerators were more common. Even then, ice was still harvested from Minnesota lakes and rivers for use by railroads and meat packing plants for commercial refrigeration and cold storage.

Lifting ice with tongs, probably Watertown MN, 1947
Credit: Minnesota Historical Society

© 2019 by Robin Reid. Created with Wix.com

DISCLAIMER: I have collected information from a variety of sources, some verifiable, some anecdotal. I've made every effort to ensure accurate information but I can't promise that all of the content is factual. If you recognize any errors, please let me know. Thank you.