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Front Porch Chat to feature Kourajian and Grenz

The Front Porch Chat at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum will feature Charlie Kourajian and Steve Grenz reporting on their photographic tours of the small towns in Stutsman County. These are the photos that future historians will treasure, showing details that would probably have been lost without their efforts.

The June 15 Front Porch Chat at the museum featured a presentation by Alden Kollman on Ferdinand Koehn, Jamestown’s first iceman. With the growth of the small village into a city by the early 1900s, there was a need for a stable source of ice. Koehn and his major partner, Art Gainsforth, built the first icehouse near the James River west of present-day First Community Credit Union. The dam near there that is called the Ice House Dam was built in later years and is probably close to where the icehouse was located, Kollman said. There must have been another dam downstream from that location that provided the pool of clear water that was needed for their ice harvesting operation. The water in that part of the river was clean, there was an upstream spring, and the water from the boilers at the railroad roundhouse was free from contaminants, Kollman said. It was said that the ice they produced was almost crystal clear.

Kollman discussed the methods that were used to collect the ice, the process of making the blocks and how they were transported to the ice house, potentially for long distances down the winding river. It was a very labor-intensive operation, and many workers were needed to harvest the ice during a very short period to keep the quality and uniformity needed to fill the icehouse, Kollman said. It was a large building, 100 feet by 150 feet, with walls that were probably more than 15 feet high. It was of double or triple wall construction with insulation between the walls, probably sawdust or packed straw. The floor was layered with sawdust to make a firm foundation for the ice and to insulate it from the ground below. The ice entered the icehouse by being pulled up a slotted ramp using a pulley system with a horse doing the work to elevate the ice blocks from the water to the scaffolding inside the ice house. Once inside the large ice blocks were maneuvered onto slides to distribute it to the part of house currently being filled. When a layer was completed it was covered by sawdust. This was done to prevent the layers from fusing together under the tremendous weight of the ice above. Kollman estimated that the ice weighed somewhere between 9 million pounds and 12 million pounds when the house was full.

Some audience members remembered the stories told by their relatives about the icehouse, using the old iceboxes, the cards that the residents would place in the window to tell the iceman how much ice they needed, and the fun they had during the summer at one of Jamestown’s landmark locations, the Ice House Dam.