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Ice Works

The old ice works, a massive timber conveyor used for harvesting ice from Green Lake, was located on the west shore of the lake about one-half mile north of downtown Spicer. The complex included a railroad spur running from the mainline St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad to Green Lake; a shack on the hill north of the works, in which meals were served; and a horse barn on the west side of Lake Avenue south of the railroad spur.

For kids, the timber structure of the ice works was a fascinating yet scary place upon which to climb but full of slivers from the rough-cut timber. The horses created a sizable manure pile that became a good place in which to dig grubs for fishing. The tremendous mountain of ice shavings on the lakeshore sometimes did not melt until July. The cold runoff from the ice into Green Lake appeared to attract fish. The ice works was a favorite place to catch sunfish.

The ice works was constructed on property that had been purchased from William and Amanda Olson, Charles and Annie Crevier, and the Spicer Land Company in 1906. It began operation in the winter of 1906-1907. From 1907 until at least 1925, a contractor by the name of J. H. Pifer from Grand Forks was employed by the railroad to supervise the cutting of the ice. He would employ a crew of local men to cut the ice and load the boxcars. Ice cutting usually began in December or January.


Loading ice into boxcar.

Between 60 and 70 carloads of ice were loaded per day. A steam locomotive and a switching crew were stationed full time in Spicer to move the railway cars from the ice works to the siding. The horses, mentioned earlier, pulled the scrapers that kept the cutting area free of snow.

Most of the ice was shipped west along the Great Northern mainline and stored for use by Western Fruit Express to cool their refrigerator cars during the hot summer months. While the railroad company certainly had access to more convenient sources of ice along their mainline, the remarkable purity of Green Lake had convinced them to go out of their way to obtain ice from Green Lake.


Downs and Nelson ice rig.

The budding village of Spicer, which numbered only about 200 persons when the ice works was built, was undoubtedly pleased to see the temporary employment and added business created by the ice works, but the industry also created some problems. The village council minutes of January 1907 reflect the displeasure of the inhabitants with the action of the railroad in cutting off the road to Green Lake Village. The road at that time ran right next to the lakeshore and not as shown on John M. Spicer's 1896 plat of the Lake Front Addition to Spicer. The road was later relocated to the Lake Avenue location shown on the plat with a crossing constructed over the railroad spur. Frequent blockage of the crossing for the loading of railroad cars bothered residents for the next 50 years.

The last ice was harvested in 1956, and the only vestiges of the ice works remaining today are the tracks embedded in Lake Avenue. In 1971 the property was sold by Burlington Northern Railroad to Eugene and Leila Wenzel, who operated the local grain elevator. The lakeshore lots formerly occupied by the ice works were subsequently sold and now contain year-round homes. A four-unit apartment building is on the land lying between Lake Avenue and Highway 23.