Before homes had refrigeration, indoor plumbing and electricity men along the Mississippi River would gather after the Christmas holiday each year to harvest the year’s supply of ice. Ice was used in homes throughout the year in large ice chests to cool perishable food. The Christmas season was the favored time of the year, as many men who worked seasonally would be laid off and many more would be home on leave from school or deployment.
The ice harvest was completed on the backwater areas of the river where the ice would be thickest and could support the weight of the men, equipment, and horses that were used to pull flatbed wagons and even ice saws before gasoline motors were mounted to saws. The ice harvested in Lansing would be hauled and stored to as many as seven different ice houses. Constructed of limestone, the ice house would be filled to the ceiling with 36” x 36” blocks of ice with a large amount of saw dust in between and on top of each layer for insulation. The saw dust would ensure the ice did not melt even through the hot summer months when the ice was most needed.
The annual ice harvest in Lansing has been revived in recent years by local residents and is led by Gary and Karen Galema. The Galema’s, who operated the Lansing Fishing Museum before donating much of the material to the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center, are local historians on the commercial activities that helped many river towns thrive before modern amenities were common. This year's ice harvest is scheduled for January 27, 2018, at the Village Creek State Boat Landing on the outskirts of Lansing. A gasoline powered saw with a Model A Ford engine that was used in Lansing from the 1930s until the final commercial ice harvest in 1965 will be used, as well as a demonstration with a horse-drawn ice saw used at the turn of the 19th century. Before the January 27th ice harvest, the equipment used will be on display for closer inspection at the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center. After the event, from 1 until 3 p.m., visitors will be able to make homemade ice cream to sample.
Photograph: Cutting Ice near Lansing, Iowa in the 1930s. Photographer Unkown, on loan to the Driftless Education and Visitors Center from Gary and Karen Galema