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Ward publishes book on Chautauqua Lake’s ice industry

October 5, 2016
By Gavin Paterniti - , Westfield Republican

BEMUS POINT - Despite its agrarian economy, one of Chautauqua County's most booming industries at the turn of the 20th century was harvested from the frozen waters of Chautauqua Lake in the winter season.

Bemus Point author Fletcher Ward has brought Chautauqua Lake's now overlooked ice industry back to life with the recent release of his third book, "The History of Chautauqua Lake's Ice Industry 1865-1935."

The book chronicles the history of the ice industry in the United States and the commercial ice business which flourished on Chautauqua Lake. According to Ward's research in the compilation of his book, ice harvesting was the sixth largest industry in the United States during the 70-year timespan indicated in the title. Because of this, he said he wanted to bring about awareness to this largely forgotten aspect of local economy.

"I'm the current president of the Bemus Point Historical Society, which has several artifacts from the local ice industry," Ward said. "I began wondering about the industry, how large it was and the impact it had on the lake and so I started looking into it. What I found was an enormous, national industry that was certainly critical to winter employment in the farm economy around Chautauqua Lake.

Locally, we had thousands of people involved in this industry because there were well over 100 ice houses situated all around the lake."

The advent of commercially available natural ice made lager beer a year-around industry. It also helped to reduce the effect of Yellow Fever and made America's cotton industry profitable because the same trains that brought cotton from the south transported ice back with them.

Chautauqua Lake ice was shipped to Meadville, Oil City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and New York City. The local capacity of ice houses was about half a billion pounds, but the local icemen were believed to have shipped about twice that amount directly by rail.

Ward's began his research earlier this year, poring through various newspaper archives as well as those of the Fenton Historical Society, Chautauqua County Historical Society and town of Chautauqua's historical society. He was able to procure approximately 600 newspaper articles pertinent to the ice industry, which he is currently in the process of transferring to disc that will be distributed to local historical societies and museums.

He said the most difficult aspect of his research was finding photographs of ice houses, which were especially unremarkable in their appearance.

"People are happy to take a picture of a steamboat going by or some of our historical hotels, but these were great big, white-washed buildings," he said. "They weren't very aesthetically pleasing subject matter for photographs, but I managed to find about 150 photos and illustrations to include in the book."

While the majority of the massive ice houses built around the lake fell victim to the vagaries of the weather, economics and arson, Ward's book chronicles several ice houses that are still standing today - including one in Mayville has even been converted into a private residence.

Copies of the book are currently available for purchase at the Lawson Center and the Lakeside Cottage Shoppe in Bemus Point, along with Cadwell's Cheese Shop in Dewittville. They can also be purchased by contacting Ward directly at 386-7977.



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