Norfolk Mill

IN 1897, GEORGE SCHWENK, who operated an ice house in Norfolk, built ponds from which he cut ice in the winter so he wouldn’t have to sell ice from the river to his customers in the summer. Ice from the ponds was much cleaner, he said. This photo shows the North Fork River and the mill, which was built shortly after the first settlers arrived in 1866.

A recent Daily News article told of Steve Geary’s desire to have an indoor arena so he and others could play hockey. He’s not the first person to have an interest in frozen ponds.

Norfolk has had outdoor public rinks in the past. I recall attempting to skate on a rink on land at the corner of Fourth Street and Elm Avenue. (At least, I think that’s where it was located.). Often when I was young, I just had to go to my backyard to skate. Then, rain and melting snow often pooled in the backyard and, when it froze, we had an ice-skating rink. Trust me, I wasn’t practicing leaps and spins. I was just trying to stay upright.

George Schwenk didn’t have skating of any kind in mind when he constructed ice ponds in 1897 near Main Street. He wanted to harvest “clear and pure ice,” which he would store until summer, when he would sell it to citizens sweltering in the heat.

According to a Daily News article from the time, Schwenk tested his theory during the summer by building a 90-foot square pond with 5-foot embankments and filling it with water pumped by an Aermotor windmill he erected next to the pond.  

“After finding that this was a safe mode of procedure, he decided to make a larger pond,” the article said. The second pond was 180 by 160 feet in size. A second windmill also was erected. The ponds were next to each other, so water flowed from the smaller pond into the larger one. Around 3,500 gallons of water was pumped each hour into the ponds. In freezing weather, the ponds would be rapidly flooded so once the water froze, the ice could be harvested and the ponds flooded again.

After his initial success, Schwenk hoped to “produce a supply of ice that will be sufficient for all the wants of the people of Norfolk during the summer months.” He planned to move his ice houses to the location of the ponds, so that all his business would be in one spot and could be readily attended to and overseen by him.  

“This move was made necessary because of the fact that the waters of the Northfork (River), where he had hitherto cut his ice, had become unhealthy, and other natural places where ice could be harvested were so far off as to be unhandy and the hauling required would be too expensive.”

A year later, it was reported that Schwenk’s plan was “working to perfection, and the quality of ice produced is excellent and free from all dangerous or disagreeable in gradients.”

By the way, I still have my skates. I bring them out once a year, fill them with greenery and use them as Christmas decorations. 

In other news

Not everything went right for the Class C No. 5 Norfolk Catholic Knights on Friday night in the Andrews Activities Center, but they got enough from both sides of the ball to beat No. 3 Lutheran High Northeast 51-42.

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