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Ice Industry

For many years the cutting of ice from rivers and lakes was an important winter industry, especially in eastern Nebraska. Just when the natural ice industry began in this state is unknown, but by 1890 it was well established. There was a demand for ice for home use, the packing industry, and for railroad refrigerator cars.



One of the largest and best known operations was run by the Crete Mills at Crete. At first ice was cut from the Big Blue River, but as the demand increased, two lakes were constructed on the west side of the river. In addition, a large icehouse was built. During the season 75 to 100 men were employed to cut and handle the ice. Ice was cut whenever the thickness reached ten or more inches. Most of the ice cut by the Crete Mills was sold to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, which shipped the freshly cut ice in especially designed “ice service” cars to various icing stations along the railroad. As many as 100 cars of ice were shipped daily from Crete during the ice cutting season. The Crete Mills also operated a smaller cutting operation at Curtis, where they used the mill pond at the Curtis Roller Mill. 



Large ice cutting operations were carried out at Memphis at a series of small lakes. Swift and Company maintained a large operation at Ashland. At Crystal Lake south of Hastings there was a large business dating from 1893 when the Crystal Ice Company dammed a portion of the Little Blue River 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. Horsedrawn scoring knives and long ice saws, later replaced by power saws, cut the ice into squares.



At Orleans the Booth Ice Company cut ice on the Republican River for a number of years. In addition, there were many small cutting operations which supplied local areas with ice for home and store use. Unfortunately, there are today few remains of the natural ice industry. It ended shortly after World War II due partly to the development of large mechanical ice manufacturing plants and electric refrigerators.


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Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
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