Historical society ‘cools it’ with summer ice harvesting exhibit

This photo of the massive Lulu Lake icehouse, which was owned by the Knickerbocker Co., is part of the new ice harvesting exhibit at the Kubicki Museum and Heritage Center on the Square. Lulu Lake ice was highly prized by breweries and dairies for its pristine clarity. Rail car loads were taken from the icehouse to Milwaukee and Chicago via the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad, which had a spur to the icehouse along its Elkhorn to Eagle Line. (Photo submitted)



The East Troy Area Historical Society has opened a new exhibit at the Kubicki Museum and Heritage Center on the Square in East Troy.  The theme for the new exhibit is ice harvesting.

Sometimes referred to as “winter agriculture,” ice harvesting took place on area lakes every winter before electric refrigeration was established.

During the winter, area farmers and farmhands would take teams of horses and hand-powered tools to nearby lakes and cut blocks of ice and move them using mostly muscle power into ice houses usually located near the lakes and built to hold the ice well into the summer months.

Cutting the ice involved a team of as many as a dozen horses wearing special ice-gripping shoes pulling an ice plow that scored the ice to a depth of a couple of inches.

Once scored into rectangles, the ice blocks were cut with large handsaws and separated from the lake using chisels.

The ice blocks or cakes were then maneuvered along water channels that had been established to allow harvesters to push them along floating toward the shoreline and an awaiting icehouse.

At the shore the cakes were cleaned of snow and shaped into rectangles before being hoisted into the icehouse by muscle power and later a conveyor belt powered by a steam engine.

Each cake weighing nearly 200 pounds as stored in the icehouse until shipment.  Sawdust, marsh hay or snow would be packed between the blocks to keep them from freezing together.

The icehouses were often huge buildings made of wood planks several hundred feet long and wide.  Icehouses were divided into rooms 30 to 40 feet wide and nearly just as high.  The walls of the building were a foot thick made of wood planks three inches thick by 12 inches high and 30 feet long.

Locally ice would be shipped around the region by rail nearly all year long.  The ice from Lulu Lake was especially prized by breweries and dairies for its pristine cleanliness. Special boxcars were maintained to carry the ice to its destination.

The new exhibit consists of early film video of the ice harvesting process.  Museum attendees can expect to find rare photographs showing local harvesting, posters, vintage ice harvesting tools and artifacts related to the ice harvesting industry and the use of ice before electric refrigeration.

The museum is open to the public at the Kubicki Museum and Heritage Center, 2106 Church Street, Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Admission is free.



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