This weekend: The Ice Harvest Festival at Hanford Mills

Above: A video promoting the annual Ice Harvest Festival at the Hanford Mills Museum.  

It's the deepest, coldest part of winter, which means that it's time to harvest ice.

Ice harvesting, a lost rural tradition that once was the only way to stockpile ice for refrigeration in the heat of summer, is experiencing a revival, thanks in part to the Disney movie "Frozen," which kicks off with an animated depiction of an ice harvest. (See below.) 

Frozen Heart (Ice Worker's Song) - Frozen by mataltaf

"Frozen's" version of an ice harvest is quite close to the real thing, right down to the tools: long saws to cut the ice, enormous tongs to pick up the cakes and wooden sledges to move them to storage.

In the Catskills, you can give ice harvesting a try yourself at the Hanford Mills Museum, which has been throwing an annual Ice Harvest Festival for years. This year's event is being held on Saturday, with bonfires, lots of hot local food, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice fishing, ice sculpting, blacksmithing and more.

But the main attraction is the ice harvesting, which anyone can try by walking out onto the frozen pond, picking up a vintage saw or pair of tongs and getting to work.

Above: Visitors harvest ice at the 2014 Ice Harvest Festival. Photo via the Hanford Mills Museum's Facebook page. 

It looks fun, but it's also hard work. The Daily Freeman interviewed Allynne Lange of Newburgh, a curator at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, about the ice harvesting industry as it once was on the Hudson River. Ice harvesting was a tough way to make money, the paper reports: 

An ice cutter’s day began around 5:30 a.m. and lasted until dark.

“You can imagine how charming it was being on the river with the wind blowing,” she said. “They had wool, but it must have been wicked. They did it to put food on the table.”

With the exception of the steam powered conveyor belts that moved ice blocks, called “cakes,” to the icehouse, everything was done with hand tools, Lange said.

Getting a paycheck week to week was no certain thing as the thickness of the ice varied year to year, even during a time when winters were colder.

“It was very limited season. You might have a two week season, or you might have an eight week season,” Lange said. “Freezes and thaws were bad because it affected the quality of the ice.”

The weather gods (or perhaps Queen Elsa?) have smiled upon the festival this year: The mill pond has 16 inches of ice on it today, Tuesday, Feb. 3, according to the museum's staff. The rest of this week will remain below freezing, so there will be plenty of ice for everyone. 

The Ice Harvest Festival. Saturday, Feb. 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hanford Mills Museum, 51 County Road 12, East Meredith. 607.278.5744.