Step back into time...

Millers Mills, NY

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Watching volunteers collect ice from Little Unadilla Lake Sunday brought back memories of stories from Michael Kerrigan’s childhood.

“It’s fascinating,” Kerrigan said. “My father did this many years ago, back before World War II.”
Back then, he said, ice was collected off the southern reservoir in Utica. His father sold the ice along James Street, and people used it to cool their refrigerators, or “ice boxes,” as they were called at the time.

On Sunday, Kerrigan returned to the Millers Mills Grange’s annual Old-Fashioned Ice Harvest for the first time in 10 years, this time as a chaperone for Boy Scout Troop 50 from Sauquoit.

“I think it’s fascinating to learn something new, that this is what used to happen,” he said.

The Millers Mills Grange has been harvesting ice from the lake on the second Sunday of February each year for so long that current Grange Master Judy Guske can’t even say when it began.

Last year’s harvest was canceled due to a warm winter, but this year the ice harvested was close to 18-inches thick.

“The whole community comes out to do this,” Guske said. “Everybody.”

Volunteers began harvesting 18-by-24-inch blocks of ice at about 11 a.m., and worked to fill the little ice house behind the Community Baptist Church of Millers Mills, Guske said.

Each block of ice was hand-sawed and loaded onto horse-drawn sleds with the help of ramps, pincers and poles.

While most of the work was handled by Grange members, visitors were invited to help with the process.

Guske said the tradition and the methods used have been passed down from generation to generation in the small community.

Henry Huxtable, one of the oldest Grange members, learned them from his parents and “kind of keeps us going in the right direction,” Guske said.

Guske hopes teenagers who help with the harvest now will someday pass the tradition on to their children as well.

Charlene and Chuck Gaetano attended the event for the first time this year, along with their 4-year-old-daughter, Autumn.

Chuck Gaetano said they had heard about the festival while living in Utica, but chose to attend now that they’ve moved to Clayville and are “getting into the country stuff.”

“It’s historical,” Charlene Gaetano said of the event. “Something you can’t see every day.”

David Palmer of Little Falls also attended for the first time and brought his two grandchildren with him.

“It’s interesting watching them pull the ice out, how they do it,” he said, as several men struggled to lift one of the blocks, estimated to weigh more than 200 pounds, out of the water.

In addition to preserving tradition, the ice harvest also is one of two annual fundraisers for the Millers Mills Grange, Guske said.

The event itself was free, but proceeds from food and beverage sales benefited the 85-member group.