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Itasca ice harvest a chilling experience

Chilling out on top of a load of ice, Elias (front) and Brant Cox of Barnesville are grandsons of Dick Cox of Park Rapids. The Itasca Pioneer Farmers held a demonstration on Lake Itasca last Saturday to show how blocks of ice were cut in the "good old days." Before refrigeration, the ice kept food cool in iceboxes and railroad cars. (Photos by Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise)1 / 2
Large tongs were used by Koby Endres to load ice up a ramp and onto the pickup with assistance from Scott Hemmerich, who drove 650 miles from Dyer, Indiana to take part in the ice harvest demonstration. 2 / 2

In spite of what one spectator described as the "shaking, shivering cold" on Lake Itasca, carloads of spectators arrived to watch members of the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers group keeps the tradition of ice harvesting alive.

A total of 131 people attended the demonstration, some staying for only a few minutes while others, who were more warmly dressed, remained on the ice for over an hour.

When the announcement came around noon that bread and soup were being served at the visitor center, most headed quickly to their cars and down the road. Mark Larson of Rice, Minnesota, provided the meal.

Lenny Hemmerich, vice president of Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers, was on hand to share stories of the ice harvest of days gone by with visitors as they chatted around the fire, sipping hot apple cider.

In the days before refrigeration, every small town had its ice house. Residents used the ice to keep food and milk cold. The railroad also depended on ice to keep food cold during shipping.

Itasca State Park used ice harvested from the lake to keep food cold both in the park and in coolers people brought when they came to camp at the park.

According to the "Discover Itasca" series, refrigeration was not widely used in the park or surrounding area until the early 1950s. Blocks of ice cut were stored at an icehouse at Bear Paw Campground after being covered with sawdust to insulate them. Ice cutting continued until

the early 1960s. The icehouse bell would ring three times a day and customers would come to purchase their ice at 10 or 15 cents per block.