by Troy Bishopp
MILLERS MILLS, NY – Finally, the ice is back, thick and strong, and “Frozen” fans can unite in song: “Ice has a magic that can’t be controlled, stronger than one! Stronger than ten! Stronger than a hundred men!”
Besides Super Bowl Sunday festivities, the equally important Millers Mills Annual Ice Harvest made its glorious return as the mercury hovered around 15º. The harvest has become a nationally known and widely publicized community effort ever since noted CBS television personality and newsman Charles Kuralt covered if for “60 Minutes” in the 1980s. “It brings families together and preserves a small bit of our rural American heritage,” said current Ice Harvest Co-chair Jeff Huxtable.
Millers Mills, a small hamlet located in extreme southern Herkimer County, was founded in 1790 by Andrew Miller and his six sons who ran a gristmill and sawmill on the headwaters of Little Unadilla Lake. The Millers Mills Grange, a sponsor of the event, and a community of residents, Grange and church volunteers, teamsters, fire and ambulance personnel and local highway departments welcome guests yearly (or whenever the ice is thick enough) to carry on the tradition and authenticity of a 19th century ice harvest.
Old hand tools are used to saw through the ice after an antique, gas-powered machine is used to score the ice the day beforehand into a checkerboard pattern, ensuring the blocks are relatively uniform in size and easier to cut and handle. This year’s 16-inch blocks weighing around 300 pounds were separated, floated and loaded onto horse-drawn sleighs and taken up to the ice house across from the Millers Mills Free Baptist Church where they are meticulously placed and packed in sawdust and snow.
Visitors were then treated to a sleigh ride from impressive two-hitch draft horse teams driven by Mike Chase of Hartwick, NY, and Alan and Stacey Maine of Richfield Springs, NY, for the return trip back to the pond. Visitors warmed up with homemade soup, chili, hot dogs, doughnuts, baked goods and hot chocolate at the Grange Hall and enjoyed a roaring fire on the ice.
The ice from the harvest is used over the summer for refrigeration emergencies, local graduation parties, family reunions, and Plain community events. For future updates, visit millersmillsny.com.