Ice Harvesting on Sodus Bay

1835 – 1939

In past winters, Sodus Bay would freeze to a depth of 10 – 14 inches. From 1835 to electrification about 1939, two icehouses on the bay supplied homes and businesses with ice. A home required about 300 cakes of ice to cool the icebox all summer. A horse dragged an Ice Plow across the ice to scribe checkerboard cuts. Large floats were sawn and then cut into cakes that could be stored with straw and sawdust between them as late as October in the icehouses.

Information courtesy of the Sodus Bay Historical Society

Ice harvesting was big  business in Sodus Point, especially in the early 1900s.

The ice harvesting on Sodus Bay was expanded and distributed to  other areas outside Wayne County via railroad. During its short but labor  intensive season, upwards of 100 men were employed in the ice harvesting  business. In the 1908 issue of Refrigerating World, volume 35, page 52 it is  reported:

“Ice cutting on Sodus Bay is now under  way. The ice is 10 inches thick and of excellent quality. Warren H. Field and Charles DeVille have a contract to furnish 300  carloads of ice to the Northern Central Railroad  Company, which will be distributed among their ice houses  at Elmira, Williamsport, Sunbury and Baltimore.”

 

ice house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the only remaining ice house structure on Sodus Bay which is located on Charles Point. Now days it is used as a community center.

 

For additional photos and information about ice harvesting, please click on this link:

http://www.historicsoduspoint.com/ice-harvesting/

 

On at least one occasion, ice harvesting turned into bird rescue as reported in the 1913 American Ornithologist Union, volume 30, page 579

“Feeding Wild Ducks on Sodus Bay, N. Y.— Sodus Bay, one of the largest bays on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, was the scene of an interesting experiment in the feeding of wild ducks during the months of February and March, 1913. The bay, which is a large irregularly shaped body of water, containing several islands, is frequented in the spring and fall by large numbers of ducks. The winter was unusually mild up to the  first of February, and many ducks remained on an area of the bay which was open, and where they apparently found plenty of food. About February 1 the weather turned  suddenly cold, with heavy snow storms and high winds. This caused the bay to freeze entirely over, preventing the ducks from reaching there feeding grounds. On February 4 the weather was very stormy, and several thousand ducks were noted in places still remaining open. On February 5 Mr. Claude T. DeVille, the state game protector at Sodus Point, noted that the ducks were flying to places kept open by men harvesting ice. The ducks were very fearless and were apparently suffering from lack of food. On the succeeding day, February 6, he obtained a quantity of wheat, and tried feeding  the ducks. The grain was readily eaten and he immediately wrote the New York State Conservation Commission, notifying them of the presence of the ducks and  the necessity of relief measures. The Commission promptly responded, and on February 10, Mr. DeVille received word to purchase grain and feed the ducks. He first tried feeding by throwing the grain in the water, but the ducks were so weak that they apparently had difficulty in reaching bottom in sixteen feet of water. This fact alone shows the extremes to which the ducks were reduced, as they were mainly Bluebills, Redheads and Canvasbacks, all of which feed at considerable depths. He then tried placing the grain on the ice on a place scraped clear of snow near the edge of the open water. This proved successful, as the ducks immediately came out on the ice, feeding like barnyard fowls. At one place near where men employed by the Northern Central Railway Co. were harvesting ice, there were often six or seven hundred ducks feeding at one time. The ducks were fed in this manner at all the places which remained open, which varied from three or four to six or eight. They were fed at least once and often twice each day, and during the period from February 10 to March 10, when the feeding was discontinued, thirty-eight bushels of wheat were fed. The ducks soon learned to look for the grain and upon seeing Mr. DeVille starting out on the ice, would fly to where the grain was placed. At one time all the holes had frozen over, and the grain was placed on the bare ice, the ducks coming in from the lake and lighting on the ice to feed. This was at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the open water in the lake. On February 21 being temporarily out of wheat, cracked corn was tried, but the ducks apparently did not relish it, and did not clean it up, as they did the wheat. During a period from February 12 to 16, Mr. DeVille estimated the number of ducks was at least ten thousand. They gradually scattered with the coming of milder weather, but there were several thousand still present on March 18.

Great credit must be given to both Mr. DeVille, who is a game protector of a type we need more of,  and the New York State Conservation Commission, for their prompt action in this matter, for there is no doubt that if they had not acted in time, thousands of ducks would have died of starvation.— H. E. Gordon, Rochester, N. Y. “