Our Historical Markers across Nebraska highlight fascinating moments and places in our state’s past.
Today we’re focusing on a manmade lake that was once home to a huge ice harvesting operation but is not a popular recreation area.
10283-10799 S Crystal Lake Ave, Ayr, Adams County, Nebraska
In 1893 the Crystal Ice Company dammed a portion of the Little Blue River 1 1/4 miles north of Ayr, creating “Crystal Lake” for harvesting and selling ice. A huge storage and loading facility was built on the nearby Republican Valley branch of the Burlington Railroad. Horse-drawn scoring knives and long, back breaking ice saws, later replaced by power saws, cut the 16″ thick ice into 9’2″ squares, which were floated down a channel to be cut into twenty-five, 22″ x 22″ cakes. Ten thousand tons per season was the capacity. A large ice house was filled for the Hastings trade, and hundreds of carloads were sold to the railroad. This winter ice harvest provided a thirty-day income for as many as fifty workers.
In the 1920s mechanical refrigeration ended the ice business and Crystal Lake became a private recreation area for picnics, dancing, swimming, boating, fishing, and skating. In 1937 the 63-acre site was purchased by the state and improved by the WPA. Silt eventually filled the lake, and in 1976 a $180,818 renovation of the lake and park was a project of the Ayr Bicentennial Committee. Crystal Lake State Recreation Area is part of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission system.