Being born just
after the good old days ended, I don't remember much about my grandmother's ice box.
However, reviewing the history of the subject makes me cooler this hot July!
Ice was not made but "harvested" in the good old days. And there is no doubt
that ice was big business and very important to everyday life - especially in the heat of
the summer. Being close to water and cold air were important to the ice business and being
close to good source of sawdust was even more important. Saugatuck and Douglas had an
abundance of all three. Before "global warming", river ice was usually a foot
thick in early January. It was then time to get the crew together and fill up the old ice
house. The hollow walls of the house were loosely filled with sawdust to provide
insulation - remember the ice blocks (at least those toward the bottom) had to last a
Any snow was cleared from the harvest area and a gridlines were etched on the ice. Cutting
of the blocks commenced with the use of a special long tooth hand saw ( in later years a
gasoline engine powered saw was used) . The blocks were floated and pushed with pikes to a
ramp that could be moved up or down depending upon the level of storage in the ice house.
The 100 pound blocks were pulled up the ramp by an endless chain powered by animal or
steam power -- to a point where gravity took over and the blocks slid to a spot inside the
house. As each layer was laid down, a coating of sawdust was spread to keep the blocks
from sticking together.
A number of ice houses existed along the river beginning with the first said to have been
owned by William G. Butler. The Goshorns had one at Goshorn Lake and they hauled their
sawdust from Singapore. The Shriver Brothers had two buildings in front of the Riverside
Hotel at the Old Harbor -- the little buildings have been erroneously called "fish
shanties"--but they were in reality ice houses. In Saugatuck, houses were located
between Mason and Hoffman and there was Eaton's Ice House (the building later became the
Buerle Hotel and then the Blue Tempo) which stood where Couglin Park is today. The Morgan
ice house was located in Douglas at the east end of Center St.
Today we cringe when we realize that a good deal of river water found its way into the
digestive system of ice consumers --but few seemed to worry about the health hazards of
the product. The accepted opinion was that anything bad in the water had been frozen to
death in the process
Hmmm - the good old days?
By Jack Sheridan