Before the days of indoor refrigeration people relied on the ice man to deliver ice to fill their ice boxes and keep their perishables cool. Where did all this ice come from? Harvested from the St. Croix River and other local lakes of course! Although ice was certainly harvested and used in Stillwater dating back to its founding in the early 1840s, the beginning of the ice business in Stillwater dates to 1863 when a Swiss immigrant, Esias Rhiener, built the first ice house on his property at the foot of Chestnut Street.
Over the succeeding decades, ice would grow to be big business in Stillwater with ice harvested both from Lake St. Croix and Lily Lake. The ice supplied not only Stillwater residents but most of St. Paul as well, and one company, Schulenberg & Boeckler, reportedly held a line on supplying southern states with ice. The ice harvesters cut the ice by hand with saws and the blocks were then hauled by horses to shore where they would be stored in ice houses. The ice in the ice houses was covered with sawdust (from the many local mills), which insulated it enough that it would last through the summer. Companies such as the Lily Lake Ice Company and others would then deliver ice to homes and businesses in Stillwater.
In 1977 Stillwater librarian Sue Collins taped an interview with long-time city resident Al Kroon, who relayed his memories of old-time Stillwater (circa 1900) including this description of the ice business:
“There were three ice houses: two at Lily Lake and one on North 4th Street, just off Myrtle Street, just where the Trinity Lutheran [Church] had its parking lot. Ice was hauled up from Lake St. Croix and teams of horses would haul on their sleds some 10 to 12 inch thick pieces [of ice]. These pieces of ice weighed 6 to 80 pounds. At that time, ice in the St. Croix River was about 36 inches thick; ice at Lily Lake, of course was hauled out of the lake. One house was located east of the present swimming beach and the other was at the end of Pine Street. Ice was packed in sawdust and filled the ice house. When a piece of ice fell off the sleigh they just left it in the street [to melt]. Wolf Brewery on Main Street, south had ice too for its own use. There was a card in the windows [of the houses] to tell the ice man to stop.”
Ice harvesting declined significantly after World War II as more and more people acquired refrigerators. The last of the ice companies in the St. Croix Valley was the Bayport Ice Company, which ended its business in 1964.
The photo is from the John Runk Photo Collection at Stillwater Public Library.