| Story by Cindy Cain |
Decades ago, rivers and lakes weren’t reserved exclusively for nature and recreation; they also served as natural ice factories.
Without modern refrigeration, large bodies of water became giant ice cube trays supplying chunks of chill for a population no longer content to only salt, pickle or smoke food for storage. Prior to the advent of ice harvesting, dairy products, fruits and vegetables spoiled often and ale and beer making could only occur in colder months, according to Erin Ecker, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District.
Ice harvesting took off in the 1800s when wealthy Boston businessman Frederic Tudor got the idea that ice shouldn’t be reserved for only the rich. He hired ice cutters, created the Tudor Ice Company and became known as the “Ice King” as he shipped harvested ice to the Caribbean and southern United States.
As Tudor’s plan worked and ice grew more popular, additional ice companies formed and hired workers to harvest ice from rivers, lakes and ponds in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Forest Preserve District’s Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve was one of the sites where ice harvesting occurred. But it happened almost by accident after Chicago Gravel Co., which had been mining stone out of the area, struck an underground spring that filled the pit with water – creating Lake Renwick.