Some readers may recall a kitchen appliance called an ice box. It was a box made of wood or metal divided into two compartments, and usually had a lid or door. One space held a large chunk of ice, while the other was for meat, milk, butter or whatever needed cooling on hot summer days.
The large ice blocks were hacked or sawed out of a frozen lake and stored in primitive shelters in huge amounts of sawdust to be sold at a later time. These big sheds were called icehouses. With the coming of electricity, ice boxes were replaced by refrigerators, and the old icehouses were abandoned on the lakeshore.
One winter, sometime in the early 1900s, my grandfather and a few hardy Finnish friends dragged one of those now-useless structures from Winton, Minn., across frozen Fall Lake in northeastern Minnesota to a nice little point about three miles east. As the land was owned by a lumberman from Chicago who had recently logged off the white pine, I can only assume that my grandfather did not own this property, and left the icehouse there to serve as a hunting shack for the guys. Life was less complicated then. Later, he bought the land, and I suspect my grandmother and three children started joining him there to enjoy the lake. Soon the shack morphed into a rough cabin with a door and screen windows. After my carpenter father inherited the cabin in the 1940s, he replaced the screens with glass and added knotty pine boards to the walls. He dug a well and added a big red pump. Then came a wood-fired stove and a two-holer outhouse. This is the cozy cabin I remember as a child.
By the time my two boys started spending summers at the cabin, it had electricity and running water. It was 1970, and the icehouse had come a long way.
Now, my three granddaughters come from Texas to spend part of their summer in the little, old cabin, with its updated amenities, enjoying the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, as did their great-grandparents. Kayaks have replaced wooden rowboats, and smartphones have replaced card games, but the sauna tradition lives on! I have repeated this icehouse story many times and sincerely hope they add their own chapters to the cabin’s history.
Mary Ann Pauling, Ely