Ice Harvesting – Our Ancestor’s Refrigerator

Before the days of modern refrigeration, it was essential especially during the grueling summer months, to purchase ice blocks to keep perishables cool.  Ice companies organized with harvesting rights from local lakes and rivers delivering blocks of ice to local consumers and sometime shipping these longer distances via train.

The Consumers Ice Company was founded in 1894 with harvesting rights to Whitefish Lake (Pierson), Diamond Lake (Newaygo), and Reed’s Lake (Grand Rapids).  Joseph Horner, a prominent businessman, also the first licensed CPA in Michigan, was appointed manager of operations.  The company prospered into the early part of the 20th century until refrigeration became a household appliance and ice blocks were no longer needed.

Mr. Horner was a photography aficionado.  He took thousands of photo plate pictures which were assumed lost.  Dr. Dwight Monsma, DDS, my former dentist, purchased and lived in the former home of Mr. Horner.  During a recent move from that location Dr. Monsma discovered many glass plate negatives in the old attic all neatly preserved in cardboard boxes.

I was able to locate living descendants of Joseph Horner who were thrilled to hear about the plates.  They made plans to have the plates picked up.  Then Dr. Monsma discovered even more plates buried in dark recesses of the attic in addition to Mr. Horner’s old photography equipment.

It is these new plates that I have been scanning in high-resolution to digitally preserve these photos both for the family and for the City of Grand Rapids.  Most of the plates picture Joseph’s family, his home, and his vacationing around Michigan.  But several others picture scenes around Grand Rapids, Newaygo, and Macatawa Lake.

Mr. Horner took several photos of the Consumers Ice Company: the operations around the lake, the harvesting of ice, the delivery teams, and the rail yard that transported the ice around the country.  Joseph captured an important period in Grand Rapids history…a time when ice was an essential commodity.  We have him to thank for offering us a glimpse into Grand Rapids’ icy past.


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