ice from the Blanchard River. “Each ice house could hold about 10,000 tons of ice,” says Bennett. The competition was so stiff, an “ice war” erupted between the competitors. “To keep the peace, the city council had to divide the river into sections between the two companies.” But that pace of business would not last; the market for ice would eventually thaw. The clomp of horse hooves pulling a snow plow and the rasp of a deeply serrated saw were sounds heard through the winters well into the early 1900s. Sawyers cut cubes of ice as large as 2 feet on a side — not too large to handle — then conveyed them to a storehouse where they were packed with insulating sawdust. The whole affair was labor-intensive and dangerous; the threat of hypothermia or being crushed by ice was ever-present. Modernization streamlined operations as hand-powered tools yielded to gas-powered implements. In the countryside, farmers cut and stored their own ice. But in the urban areas, a horse-drawn cart with a bed full of ice, ice picks, and large iron tongs covered by a patina of use were a common sight.
February was, and still is, the last month when the weather lends itself to reliably freeze ponds and streams across the state. That was once critical to businesses and home economies. Ice production and harvest was an important industry across Ohio until the advent of modern refrigeration. In all corners of Ohio, homes and industries relied on the cold winter weather and commercial ice harvesters to deliver cakes of frozen water that would make it through the hottest parts of the year. February’s ice chilled stored meats and vegetables all the way through to autumn. Doctors cautioned that iced water caused gum and tooth disease and stomach ailments, but brewers and meatpackers relied on commercial ice houses to keep the wheels of business rolling year-round. Brewers used ice to regulate fermentation, and packers needed ice to store and deliver meats, keeping spoilage at bay. The commercial ice industry started circa 1830 in New England and spread through the upper Midwest. Commercial ice houses were well-established in Ohio by the mid- to late 19th century. According to Joy Bennett, curator and archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay, two ice houses in Findlay kept up rigorous businesses and competed for customers, both harvesting An ice harvesting operation on the Blanchard River near Findlay, just before prime season. (Courtesy Hancock Historical Museum, Findlay); Top: a deliveryman preparing for a weekly stop. (Library of Congress)
26 OHIO COOPERATIVE LIVING • FEBRUARY 2019