A major export here in the late 1800s/early 1900s? Ice. Huge slabs of ice.

La Porte ice house workers guide ice slabs as they head from the lake up a conveyor. Photo by the late R. Bernard Bowman of La Porte

A view from the top of the conveyor as the ice slabs move from lake to ice house. Photo by the late R. Bernard Bowman of La Porte

Horses were used to pull large saws to score the ice slabs. Sadly, over the years some horses were lost when the ice gave way. Photo by the late R. Bernard Bowman of La Porte

A wider shot of a La Porte ice house and conveyor. Photo by the late R. Bernard Bowman of La Porte

Another view of the ice scoring in La Porte. Photo by the late R. Bernard Bowman of La Porte

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Although the Old Farmer’s Almanac came into existence in 1873, it is doubtful that local ice house owners relied on it for weather information. It was speculated that the predictions were about 80% reliable.

In December 1873, there were 43 ice houses on La Porte County lakes. John Hilt had 23 of them — 10 on Fish Trap Lake, 10 on east Clear Lake, and three on lakes inside the city of La Porte. Thompson & Co. had 14 — nine on Stone Lake, and five inside the city limits on south Clear Lake. Cromie of Louisville had three on south Clear Lake, and the Cincinnati “folks” had three houses near the car shops. Each house was 32×100 feet and 25 feet high. Nine new ones had recently been erected by Hilt and three by Thompson & Co.

LaPorte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

La Porte lakes were not the only waterways involved in this industry in the county. Michigan City also participated in the ice harvesting industry, as did Hudson Lake. In 1888, Swift & Co. of Chicago purchased land around both Upper and Lower Fish Lakes.

Ice harvesting ceased here in 1930. According to the history of the industry here, the largest single deposit of ice put up in storage during the last week of February 1914 was some 65,000 cubic feet at Wolf Lake. This was said to have been enough to supply ice for 56 drinks a year for every person living in the U.S. at the time.

Weather was a very important factor in the ice business.  It was expected that if the weather was favorable, there would be employment for between 350 and 400 men for a month. They would labor 10 hours a day, including Sundays. Wages were $1.25 per day.

In February 1938, it was announced there would be no more harvesting of ice on La Porte lakes. La Porte County had been a center of ice supply years before the advent of “artificial” ice and electrical refrigeration. Ice houses had at one time dominated the shores of practically all the lakes. Ice went out of La Porte County by trainloads.

Warm weather had its hand in killing the ice industry. Generally speaking, by January the ice would be frozen strong enough to hold a team of horses and sleigh. The chunks were pulled out of the water and placed on the sleigh to be hauled to the ice house. There it was covered with straw to keep it from melting. It lasted through the following summer and fall until the next ice harvest. On Feb. 29, 1936, the ice on Pine Lake was 36 inches thick, the record being 35 inches and seldom over 22 inches. Today, it is not unusual for the lake not to even be frozen to a safe point for ice fishing.     

An icebox on display at the museum. An ice block was placed in the top of the box and items were refrigerated in the lower part. The interior was lined with tin and there was a drain hole and pan in the bottom for the melting process. Photo provided

Apparently seeing the possible demise of the ice harvesting industry, on June  14, 1932, the announcement was made of the establishment of the La Porte Artificial Ice Co. It was located at 710 Lincoln Way East and would be completely under way in a week or 10 days. At the time, the company was not making its own ice but was shipping in “fine artificial ice” from Dowagiac, Michigan. The ice plant adjoined the East Side Garage, formerly operated by William J. Wallen, who was one of the partners in the artificial ice business. Associated with Wallen in the business was C.G. Shea of South Bend, who had 14 years’ experience in the artificial ice business. Wallen had been a resident of La Porte for 25 years and had operated the East Side Garage. By this time, most homes had an icebox and ice was being delivered regularly.  Signs showing the amount of ice needed were placed in the window of homes.

Cakes of ice made at the local artificial ice plant were scheduled to be about 10 1/2 inches thick, 2 feet in width and 57 inches in length. Such a sized cake would weigh 400 pounds. Cut up into cakes of 25 and 50 pounds, it would be considered an ideal size for refrigerators. It would be made by the ammonia process in a huge tank, five and one-half feet in depth. Economic advantages made ammonia the refrigerant of choice for cold storage facilities.  

By 1936, there was no listing of La Porte Artificial Ice Co. at 710 East Lincoln Way. The occupant now at this address was City Ice and Beverage Co. Wallen is at this time a resident of 709 East Lincoln Way. By 1938, George Hilt was recorded as Manager of City Ice.

The ice harvesting industry will be the focus of a display at the La Porte County Historical Society Museum during the month of January 2019. Plan on visiting to view photos and information that will be available throughout the museum.  If you have questions, please call 219-324-6767 or email info@laportecountyhistory.org.

9 Responses to “A major export here in the late 1800s/early 1900s? Ice. Huge slabs of ice.”

  1. Lynn Lisarelli

    Jan 07. 2019

    Great history lesson, Fern! Thank you!!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Jerry Gray

    Jan 08. 2019

    Some of the old concrete supports can be found along the woods along the west edge of Stone Lake

    Reply to this comment
  3. Snyder

    Jan 08. 2019

    Thanks for the great historical story and photos Fern.
    My Dad used to always tell us about the ice industry and ice houses in Fish Lake. Our family owned most of the land around Upper and Lower lake in the late 1800’s- early 1900’s.
    I was always amazed hearing that the ice cut in the winter would last into the summer in those ice houses. Great stuff!

    Any history on on LaPortes first humane society? ( Hint)

    Reply to this comment
  4. Allison C Bayer

    Jan 09. 2019

    Wonderful! I loved reading all about the ice harvest.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Mike

    Jan 09. 2019

    Great history lesson, Fern, Thank You!

    I’ve been told for years that there is still an ice house located in a cul de sac off of Judson Road. It has the appearance of a two story home from the road however from the North Pine Lake it’s five stories.

    Reply to this comment
    • Joe collins

      Jan 14. 2019

      Correct. It’s Judson Rd off of Holton Rd. I used to live there. Neat place, we lived on the ground floor and the back was about 5 stories up. Last time I was by there someone was remodeling it

      Reply to this comment
  6. Dean Heise

    Jan 10. 2019

    Fern, Thanks for your wonderful story and continued history of La Porte!

    Reply to this comment
  7. Maurice G Levine

    Jan 13. 2019

    Thank you, Fern, for another fascinating story of the olden days.
    I actually remember, as a child in the mid-1930’s, following the ice delivery truck as it made its way around the neighborhood of Maple Ave. & Linwood Ave. We kids would get slivers of ice from the truck bed for a cooling refreshment on a warm summer day. Who needed Dairy Queen when you could get ice free?

    Reply to this comment
  8. Dave Wegiel

    Jan 16. 2019

    My house is located on Fish Trap lake. At one time this was where an ice house was located. The 1000 foot lane back to my house is an old railroad bed that was used to haul the ice.

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