Moving the ice blocks "cakes" into the ice house on the Mississippi River
McCann-Wessler Ice House 1939
Marguerite Sartell McCann, with son Jack age 3, watch the workers harvesting the ice. 1940
The exposed frame of the icehouse. 1939
Some of the tools used by the McCann's to harvest ice on the Mississippi, a bowl of sawdust is also on display
By Thomas Sartell
Ice Making in Sartell
Jack McCann, 85, remembers when at age four he watched workers harvesting ice on the Mississippi river above the Sartell dam. Jack's grandfather, Archie Paul McCann, and his partner, Juilius Wesler, ran two ice businesses from 1935-1943.
Before the advent of electricity, using blocks of ice harvested from local rivers and lakes was the only way people could preserve meat and other products. In Sartell, the Mississippi River was their major source of ice. St. Cloud citizens drew their ice from Lake George.
The process of harvesting ice was carried out during Minnesota's bitter winter weather, Icemen waited until the ice was 16" to 22" thick before removing surface snow and marking off long strips of ice using a cutter. Long-toothed saws=sometimes operated by machines- and other tools of the trade were used to cut the ice strips into large blocks.
A farmer could make $5.00 a day hauling five or six wagonloads of ice to area icehouses. It was not unusual to stack ice 25 tiers high.
To keep ice from melting during warm weather, dry sawdust collected from the Sartell paper mill and local sawmills was thickly packed around the ice, a process that provided year-round protection.
The iceman and his horse-drawn wagon was a common figure on America's street and alleys from the early 19th century to post World War II. Drivers served homes, stores, and saloons. Customers would set a cardboard sign-marked 25, 50, 75, and 100 - in their windows to inform the driver of the amount of ice needed that day. A 500-pound block cost $2.75.
A St. Cloud author wrote: "Children followed the iceman down the alley. Every time he chipped an order from a larger clock, he would make slivers of ice. On a hot June day, there was nothing cooler than an ice chip fresh off the wagon, clear as a bell, and melting down your arms."
Since tools and methods of ice harvesting were unique, it is not surprising that builders chose unorthodox forms when designing icehouses. The McCann-Wesler Icehouse resembles a building with its structural members exposed to the elements. In Paynesville, Minnesota, the 1910 North American Cold Storage building was a massive brick structure with castle-like ornamentation. A four story white-brick icehouse, built in 1920 in East St. Cloud, was renovated in 1982 and used to house 25 apartments. At the time, efforts were made to nominate the icehouse to the National Register of Historic Places.
In a 1944 article, "Putting Up Ice" a St. Cloud Times reporter lamented the end of the ice harvesting era: "Boys lived to put up ice because of the thought always of it when the hot days came. It not only went into the milk tank and refrigerator, if there was one on the farm, but it was one thing that was absolutely needed to make a gallon freezer of ice cream for a hot Sunday or holiday next summer."
Logging, piloting a steamboat, and other river activities have produced a large body of American Folk Literature. Ice-Harvesting and the men who carried out that trade could add a fascinating chapter to this national narrative."
Where Rivers Merge Stories from the History of Sartell, Minnesota William Towner Morgan pages 32-33