Tip of the Iceberg: DuPage, Will Counties’ Long History with Ice Harvesting

February 9, 2022
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Most people alive today have only known a world of modern refrigeration, but what did people do before there was a refrigerator and freezer in every home?

Ice harvesting was abundant in DuPage and Will counties up to the turn of the 20th century and it was no easy task.

How It Works

According to Will County Historical Museum and Research Center Director Sandy Vasko, “You then send teams of men out. They brush off the snow off the top of the ice. They then mark it. They have something called an ice chopper or an ice chisel … and they cut them off in rectangular squares. As each square falls off, they have a hook, they grab it and take it to a point where they decide this is where our shoot is going to be. It’s slid all the way up and on the ramp and into a vehicle. They keep doing this until the entire patch is harvested.”

Then, they would move on to another section of the lake allowing the process to be repeated over and over again.

Those harvesting ice often wore ice shoes to maintain their balance, as did their horses.

The Little Ice Age

Keith McClow, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District’s Heritage Experience Manager, says it’s clear that ice was a hot commodity in DuPage and Will counties.

According to McClow, “They called it ‘The Little Ice Age’, and they had no problems getting ice.”

Ice was big business and was spurred on by movement of goods in the network of railroads, canals and smaller waterways sprawled across the region, from Naperville’s Mill Pond to the DuPage River.

According to McClow, “All along the train lines that are very familiar here in the Chicagoland, you’ll find the remnants of old ice houses.”

Ice harvesting remains big at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago and visitors can get a glimpse into the past and see how it impacts the future.

Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.

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