Lake Maxinkuckee Its Intrigue History & Genealogy Culver, Marshall, Indiana

John Edward Werner's account of the Ice Harvest  

In Memories of One John Edward Werner Volumes 1 and 2 by John Edward Werner(1997 Tombaugh House Rochester, Indiana), John Edward Werner wrote this description of the Ice Harvest for the Culver Citizen years ago:

Ice Houses in Culver

In the winter, one of the more interesting things that happened was the annual ice harvest. This was, of course, in the days before electric refrigerators when every home had an ice box that used ice, and most of the time it was natural ice similar to that produced in Culver. There were two large ice houses in Culver at that time. (There are none now.) One year 47,000 tons of ice were harvested from Lake Maxinkuckee. One of the ice houses was only a stone's throw from the back of our house. We used to play on the roof as well as anywhere else that the men who worked there would let us since no one but our parents ever seemed to worry about us being injured.

The ice was cut from the lake when it had reached a thickness of at least 8 inches. The snow was scraped off first, if there was any, and then using a circular saw, the ice was marked off in squares of about two feet on each side with grooves four or five inches deep. Using a large hand saw that was similar to a regular carpenter's saw except bigger and coarser, the ice was cut into large sections about four squares wide and fifteen squares long.

These large sections were floated toward shore through canals cut in the ice and then were broken up into smaller sections only two blocks wide and four or five blocks long for easier handling. The ice blocks were broken apart by means of a steel wedge-like tool with a five-foot handle and then these smaller sections were floated onto a chain type conveyor for distribution to the large storage rooms in the ice house itself. Each of these storage rooms were about 60 feet wide and 200 feet long with an opening three feet wide and as high as the ice house which was about 25 feet. The ice blocks, which had been broken apart on the way to the storage rooms, were hooked off of the conveyor and slid into the rooms and, starting at the back, were stacked up about 15 ft. high. The entire floor would then be covered with ice and about five feet of straw was placed on top for insulation. The conveyor was equipped with a chain hoist so that it could be raised as the rooms filled up.

During the summer months, the ice would be uncovered and slid out of the rooms into insulated box cars waiting on a railroad siding for shipment to South Bend, Logansport, and Indianapolis. Surprisingly enough, the ice had not melted much since it was stored. The ice business was owned by a man named Medbourn, and the town of Culver was supplied with lots of his product directly from the storage rooms. The harvesting, storage and handling of the natural ice furnished a lot of employment to winter-idle farmers, as well as other people in Culver. The advent of electric refrigerators soon put the natural ice harvest and ice house out of business. One of the two ice houses burned to the ground and the other one was torn down to make way for other types of enterprises.

The ice business was always an interesting operation for the kids to watch, both in the winter and summer, and I can remember many hours spent watching and playing at the ice house, many times picking out small pieces of cool ice to suck on. In the winter we had to be very careful about the large open spots that were left when the ice was removed or we might get an unwelcome dunking in the cold water until these open areas froze over again. If we did fall in we just climbed out and went home as fast as we could where our mother, who was glad to see us unhurt, would take off the clothes that were frozen stiff and replace them with warm dry things. We must have been a worry for our dear mothers

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