By Waldy Diez EAST MEREDITH, N.Y. (NCC News) – The practice of harvesting ice blocks is more than 100 years old. Kajsa Harley, the education and curatorial initiatives manager at the Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith, says it was very important to the dairy industry in Central New York.
“Ice harvesting is something that has been done in this area historically,” Harley said. “It was a very important crop before refrigeration. Ice was very important for keeping milk cold.”
Ice kept milk cold until it was ready to be sold to New York City and other parts of the state. However, refrigerators replaced home ice boxes in the 1920s. The Town of East Meredith held on to its past and has been hosting the Annual Ice Harvest Festival since 1989.
“We don’t use it so much for food preservation any more, but it’s a very important part of our heritage here, so it’s something we continue to do,” Harley said. “It’s no something that very many other people will do anymore, so it’s something that is unique we can offer.”
Harley said the event is very traditional, and the staff at Hanford Mills often see the same people. According to Peg Odell, the communications coordinator of the museum, this year’s festival drew more than 1,200 people, about 200 more than last year’s festival, and about 400 less than the town of Meredith’s total population.
“We had visitors from throughout New York State, including New York City, Binghamton, Albany and Utica, as well as Massachusetts and Vermont,” Odell said.
How to harvest
The staff at Hanford Mills scored the ice on top of the 10-foot-deep pond the day before the festival. Families and visitors then used traditional tools to cut blocks out of 18 inches of ice by hand. Staff members would help bring ice blocks to Rebecca Hotaling in the ice house.
“We’re going to take this ice, bring it inside of the ice house, we’re going to stack it and then we’re going to use it in July for our Independence Day celebration,” Hotaling said.
Sawdust surrounds the ice blocks with air pockets in between the boards of the ice house to keep them cold until the summer.
The ice is stacked with the clear parts in the middle.
“The old days, that’s what would get sold,” George Latchford, another ice house volunteer said. “Italian guys that would use the ice shavers, your snow cones, that would all be clear ice.”
Instead of shaved ice and snow cones, the museum uses the blocks from the harvest to keep the ice cream cold on the 4th of July.