Ice in August
August 20, 2008
While sipping an ice-clinking cocktail on a hot August day on the Mill Street Mall, you may wonder how Aspenites coped with heat before refrigeration. Bars did not serve margaritas a half-century ago so rocks vs. slushy was not a question, but a 90-degree day would curdle your milk.Fortunately, at Aspens high elevation even the hottest days are followed by cool nights. Victorian houses included basements or storage areas in shady areas that held the cool night air throughout the day to preserve perishables. Ranchers built potato cellars for cool storage. A thick mound of dirt over a wood-lined interior could keep food cool in summer and above freezing in the winter.While hiking in the mountains you may have stumbled upon an old one-room miners cabin. They often have curious additions on the shady backside that are not accessible from the inside of the cabin. These cold storage closets provided space to hang venison and to store a milk can. Cabins usually were located near streams, where a partially submerged watertight container would keep its contents cool, even cold.Aspen did have ice in August. Blocks of ice were cut from lakes and streams in winter, and then stored for summer use. Up until the 1920s, ice provided summer refrigeration. Nationally, ice was a big business by the 1880s. Frederic Tudor, the Ice King, began selling ice in Massachusetts in the 1820s. By the 1880s he was shipping ice to ports as far away as Calcutta. Innovation led to horse-drawn ice plows that cut rows of half-foot grooves on lakes or slow moving streams. Drivers ran the plow in perpendicular rows, scoring 6-inch deep blocks, 2 feet by 1 foot. Blocks weighing 100 pounds were broken off easily with a pry bar and pushed through the water toward an embankment. The ponds at the Aspen Music School campus were harvested. The owner, George Newman, employed a crew that cut ice on the ponds and packed it in hay in a shed designed for that purpose.Men sawed ice from Hallam Lake in large quantities, loaded it on sleds, and then hauled it up the hill to town. This community event employed high school boys and often culminated with a skating party. East of town, the Stillwater area of the Roaring Fork provided a third ice source.Families hauled ice home for personal use. Commercial cutters packed ice lockers insulated with sawdust in buildings like the Crystal Palace. They sold the ice to customers for home refrigerators. Withstanding melting of up to 30 percent, enough ice remained to last through summer.The process of cutting and storing block ice led to spin-off businesses. One of the most important to Aspen was the refrigerated railroad car. Growers in Western Colorado increased profits in the early 1900s by accessing distant markets with refrigerated fruit. Those growers invested in Aspens mines. Americans everywhere enjoyed other fruits of summer ice: ice cream and cold beer.You may have read about last months G8 Summit, where Japanese hosts showcased energy-saving technologies. Not all the technology was cutting-edge. That gathering of world leaders was housed in a structure built over a foundation that had been stuffed with mountain snow. The age-honored technology cooled even our American global-warming doubter. Perhaps Aspenites will once again cut ice on Hallam Lake. Do you want your margarita on the rocks?
Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.