For the past few weeks, staffers at the Hanford Mills Museum have been getting ready for Saturday's annual Ice Harvest: clearing snow from the surface of the mill pond, measuring the ice layer, and preparing for the arrival of more than 1,000 visitors eager to celebrate the harvest.
The Ice Harvest is one of the Museum's most popular events, drawing visitors from far and wide as well as local families and history buffs. It's at once a midwinter celebration, a trip back in time to pre-industrial America, and a hands-on demonstration of how old-fashioned icemaking was done before the invention of the refrigerator.
Right now, there's about seven inches of good clear ice on the pond, and another two inches of "snow ice," according to museum director Liz Callahan. That's almost enough to guarantee that visitors will be able to help out with the harvest this year. Callahan is counting on the weather helping out over the next couple of days.
"We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Mother Nature wil help us out," Callahan said. "Much as people are dreading the cold nights, we’re doing a little happy dance."
If the mill pond sports eight clear inches of ice by Saturday morning, visitors will be able to help wield ice saws, chisels and tongs to cut heavy blocks of ice from the pond, and bring it by sled to the old ice house, where it will be packed in sawdust from the mill to await the Museum's annual Independence Day event in July. This summer, ice from the winter harvest will be used to make ice cream in the Museum's steam-powered churn.
At last year's Ice Harvest, the ice wasn't quite thick enough to allow visitors out on the pond, thanks to a bout of unseasonably warm weather. But this year, the forecast is on track to ensure a good harvest. If the ice hasn't grown quite enough by Saturday morning, visitors will still be able to watch Museum staff bring in the harvest.
"Our goal is to let everybody have the experience, but we don’t mess around with safety issues," Callahan said. "We’re really hopeful that we’ll get to eight inches by Saturday."
Regardless of the weather, the Ice Harvest will feature horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice fishing, ice sculpting, and a soup buffet put on with generous assistance from 25 local restaurants and students from the SUNY Delhi culinary program. This year, the Museum will also be auctioning off a special painting, "Ice Cutting at Hanford Mills NY," donated by equine artist Werner Rentsch to support the Museum's history programs.
Callahan has one piece of advice for festival-goers: When driving from out of town, stick to the state roads until you get to County Route 10 or 12 (the Museum is at the intersection of these two roads).
"Your GPS will send you on some beautiful routes, but during the winter they’re not as easy to navigate," she said.
That's rural Delaware County for you.
Ice Harvest Festival, Hanford Mills, 51 County Highway 12, East Meredith, NY. Saturday, Feb. 4, 10am-4pm. Admission $9; free for Museum members and children under 12; discounts for senior citizens, AAA members, active military and National Trust for Historic Preservation members. For more information, see the Hanford Mills website or Facebook page, or call 607.278.5744.
Below: A recent video of Hanford Mills staffers cutting a channel for the upcoming ice harvest.