Explore Marshall 12

Scan QR Codes downtown to find unique content that changes often!

Ice Harvesting in Marshall

Long before the days of modern conveniences like refrigerators, freezers and ice machines, people took advantage of the freezing temperatures in the north by harvesting ice to use throughout the year. Pioneers used the ice to preserve their food, make special deserts like ice cream or sorbet, or simply to cool their drinks on a hot summer day. During the winter months, ice and snow would be cut from lakes or rivers and taken into a facility called an icehouse for storage. An icehouse provided a secure shelter for the ice as it was packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust, and it would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter. According to THIS BOOK, during the height of the ice trade, a typical icehouse could store 2,700 tons of ice in a 30x100x45 standard building. (Information from Cowtown: An Album of Early Calgary, 192).

In Marshall, J. M. Laberteaux built a small icehouse on the Kalamazoo River in 1865 and began an ice cutting operation for the town. In 1879, John Fred Gauss, Sr. built an icehouse on the Kalamazoo River and established an ice cutting operation and sold the product out of his building on Green Street. Reportedly, Gauss would cut his own ice to sell but would also purchase ice from Laberteaux to increase his inventory. Eventually, in 1883, Gauss purchased the Laberteaux operation and added several other buildings for storage. In 1893, Gauss’s son joined the family business to continue its legacy in Marshall. The family tore down the original Gauss building in 1894 and replaced it with a larger building in which had the storage capacity for 2,000 tons of ice. In the operation’s early years, Gauss’s workers transported the ice blocks into storage by horsepower, but in 1894, Gauss installed a steam-powered elevator that dramatically increased production; only operating as quickly as the water could freeze.

Unfortunately, in 1903, the Hurd Mill located near the icehouses caught fire which took the Gauss icehouses with it. Interestingly, photos remain that show the ice still intact after the building had badly burned around it. Local people quickly worked to build a framework around the ice to repack it and preserve it to at least harvest time of that year.

In 1903, crews worked quickly to build a new icehouse that had the capacity of 3,500 tons of ice and the name changed to the Marshall Ice and Fuel Company. After Gauss Sr. passed away in 1902, his son carried on the business until 1905 when he sold it to W.G. and L. C. Noneman. The Noneman family operated the business until 1911 when they sold it back to Gauss Jr who then continued operations until 1930. Gauss sold the business to Edward “Billy” Hand of Jackson who renamed the company the Eastman Ice Company. The structure of the old icehouse was torn down after Hand passed away in 1937. (Information from “A History of Marshall” by Richard Carver, 178-79)