Tobyhanna, Pa., Ice Harvest set for Feb. 16, 2013


The 2013 ice harvest is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16, having been postponed in January because the ice was not thick enough.  The very cold weather of late January bodes well for ice harvesters, although weather in the first two weeks of February will ultimately determine whether the festival is held this year.   The 2012 festival was canceled because of the mild weather.

Here are photos from the 2010 ice harvest.









here’s some history about the Tobyhanna ice harvest.

Tobyhanna Ice Harvesting Festival

Tobyhanna, Pa. — Jan. 14, 2006

Each year since 1994, the Poconos community of Tobyhanna has hosted an Ice Harvesting Festival, commemorating the ice business that was prominent in Pennsylvania until electric refrigerators arrived in the 1930s. Those attending the one-day festival at Millpond #1 can help the local experts cut blocks of ice using traditional saws, then transport the ice using a tractor or mules up a hill to the icehouse, which holds 50 tons. The ice is used throughout the summer to fill the coolers of fishermen and picnickers.

Tobyhanna is located in northeastern Pennsylvania. about 25 miles southeast of Scranton, home of Steamtown National Historic Site. This year Steamtown will run a train with steam engine to the ice harvest and back. For train details, check the Steamtown site or call 1-888-693-9391.

If there is any question about the weather or ice conditions, the ice harvest organizers can be reached at 570-894-8205.

The 2004 event drew about 300 people.

About the ice harvest

By Bill Leonard Jr. 

Bill Leonard Sr. had been collecting tools that had been used in the local commercial ice industry for years, and as a part of the Coolbaugh Township Bicentennial Celebration, he decided to construct a small ice house and hold an ice harvest on Millpond #1 in Tobyhanna. Bill died right after the icehouse was constructed and before the ramp construction got underway. His family, friends, and townspeople all chipped in to complete the project and the the icehouse and ramp were completed and the first ice was harvested in February 1994. We’ve held an ice harvest each year since.

We’re doing this to show the younger generation how ice was harvested and stored so it was available to keep perishables cool before the days of refrigerators and freezers. We also want to demonstrate the methods and tools used back in the early 1900’s when ice harvesting was big business in the Tobyhanna area.

Most of the ice is used for picnics and filling coolers for fishing trips through out the summer. Usually by early October only a few cakes are left in the icehouse when it is cleaned to get ready for the next harvest.

The icehouse is made from hemlock lumber, with 8-inch-thick walls filled with sawdust for insulation. The floor is gravel covered with loose planks to facilitate drainage.

The thickness of the ice determines how many cakes are needed. The icehouse holds 50 tons of ice when full. The cakes are 21 inches square when cut. With 12-inch-thick ice, each cake weighs approximately 175 pounds.

To begin the cutting, two straight lines are laid out on the ice field at right angles. Using a string as a guide an “ice plow” is used for the initial cut. Then gas-powered ice saws, made in 1919, are used to cut about two-thirds of the ice thickness. Hand saws are then used to cut through the ice and free a strip of cakes, called a float, from the ice field. The float is moved through the channel toward the ice house by people using ice hooks. The cakes are then pulled up to the end of the wet ramp. Here a rope is placed around several cakes and they are pulled to the top of the ramp either by houses or a tractor.

In the old days this was done by steam powered conveyors that raised the ice up to the working level in the houses. As the conveyor moved

the cakes along, they were pulled off, using ice hooks, onto chutes that led into each of the rooms.

As the cakes reach the top of the ramp they are turned and slide down the small ramp into the icehouse. People with ice hooks use the momentum of the cake to position it in the right spot in the house. As each layer is completed the ramp is raised and a new layer started. When the house is full the ice is covered with straw.

The Mountain Ice Company stored 200,000 tons per year. They normally started the day after Christmas. The ice was

BOXCAR-AFTERsm.jpg (40711 bytes)
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shipped by rail cars similar to the car we acquired in October 2002. Our car will be used to store ice harvest tools. The combined total output from companies in the area that was normally shipped per day was 300 30-ton rail cars full of ice cakes. The cars were lined with paper but were not air tight. The melting loss was about 25 percent before reaching major cities in the east.

The normal harvest season ran 100 days. However, one year, when they had a mild winter, the Pocono Lake Ice House, the largest in the area, was filled in 11 days working day and night during a late winter cold spell. Ice harvesting ended in this area in the late 1940s, with Warnertown being the last to close.

Tobyhanna is an Indian word for “alder stream” or “dark water” stemming from the dark color of the water that flows from the marshes in the headwaters of the creek. The town of Tobyhanna was named after the stream that runs through it.

More ice harvest history
from  Bill Leonard Jr.

The natural ice industry was an important local industry around the turn of the last century. The Tobyhanna Millpond #1 was originally dammed for the logging industry around 1856.  The Pocono Mountain Ice Company leased the lake from the Tobyhanna and Lehigh Lumber Company and the first single house was built in 1895.  Horses pulled the ice up an incline to fill the house.  In about 1907, a larger 10-room icehouse was built that was 500 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 50 feet high, with a steam- powered conveyor.  This icehouse remained in operation until it burned down in the 1930s.  This historic icehouse was at the site of the existing small icehouse in operation today.

It was reported that the Pocono Mountain Ice Company was harvesting ice for 6 cents per ton.  Ice workers out on the lake were paid 30 cents an hour while those working in the icehouse, where 300-pound cakes were being pushed around, were paid 35 cents an hour.  The Pocono Mountain Ice Company employed over 500 men during the height of the harvest.

The combined total output from the area reportedly peaked at about 300 rail cars per day.  Each railroad car could hold about 20 tons of ice.  In 1899 the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad charged 65 cents per ton for delivery of ice to New York City.

Pennsylvania was the third-largest producer of ice in the United States, following Maine and New York.  The invention of refrigeration marked the beginning of the end for the natural ice industry.  As electric refrigerators became more common in households in the 1930s, replacing the old iceboxes that were used for natural ice cooling, the ice industry was rapidly declining.  Ice-cooled railroad cars were the last great demand for natural ice.   The nearby icehouses in Gouldsboro and Warnertown remained in operation until the early 1950s.

As part of the Coolbaugh Township Bicentennial Celebration in 1994, Bill Leonard Sr. began the construction of a small icehouse at Mill Pond #1 in late 1993.  He had worked in the ice industry as a boy and had been collecting ice-harvesting tools for years and his goal was to show how ice was harvested for this once important local industry.  Although Bill passed away before the project was completed, with the help of family, friends, and townspeople the construction was completed and the harvest was held on February 19, 1994 .  Each year since the bicentennial, an ice harvest is held and the local folks, many of whom had fathers and grandfathers in the ice industry, gather together to relive the tradition.  The icehouse can hold about 50 tons of ice and is insulated with 8-inch walls of sawdust.  The ice is used for picnics throughout the year and usually keeps until September.


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