The Ice War Continueth, Part 2

November 21st, 2019

By Becky Chapin, Archivist

In August the Finger Lakes Times ran my article on the history of Geneva’s ice companies titled “Geneva was home to a bustling ice industry” which I had called Ice War at Geneva). Within a couple of weeks several of our members contacted me with more information about ice harvesters and a company which I had not found before. The problem with city directories is that they covered the city, but often did not have any information about town businesses. In my research on the companies outside the city, I found that there were many tensions in the ice community well before the 1905 Buffalo newspaper had declared a war.

pond surrounded by trees

White Springs Farm pond

The White Springs Water Works Company furnished Geneva with White Springs water from 1797 for nearly 100 years and almost exclusively until 1888. The flow from the springs was around 200,000 gallons per day. It was this same water that would provide ice to residents and businesses.

White Springs Farm hosted a number of ice harvesters who boasted about “Clearer, Purer, Solider Ice” that is “all Ice, not part snow.” Most of the information on the White Springs ice harvest comes from newspaper articles and advertisements (of which some years are spotty). John Burns promoted his ice harvest in 1867, having already furnished customers for twelve years, with the quality of ice “superior to any that can be obtained in the vicinity, being free from any and all impurity.”

In 1874, he details his plan to create an artificial pond of uniform depth with water being added from the White Springs only as needed. This would allow the water to freeze quickly and be cut out at once to make room for more. The cakes being cut out were about six inches thick and as clear as crystal.

ad from the Geneva Gazette dated December 5, 1879

John Burns ad in the Geneva Gazette, December 5, 1879

Also advertising in 1873-74 were WR Loomis & JA Frisbie, located at an office on Bradford Street. They had leased White Springs Ponds in addition to Parlett Pond (John Parlett, a farmer) and a pond of Capt. Joseph S Lewis to harvest ice. Samples were exhibited at various places around Geneva to show how pure and clear it was, encouraging families to sign contracts for the year. John Burns would lease the same lands in 1879 and advertise with a great pun: “I Shall Have More and Better Ice than anybody else, and enough to Freeze all my Competitors.”


a woman and two children standing in front of a multi-story building

R. Knight Grocery Store

Richard Knight Jr. was also in the ice industry, leasing the upper White Springs Reservoir in 1879. Frictions in the industry are visible in an advertisement of that year which says he leased the principal reservoir from the White Springs Water Works Company, and that “representations of other parties that this privilege is theirs is erroneous.” He is selling “The Only Perfectly Pure White Springs Ice” at his grocery store on the corner of Tillman and Exchange Streets.

The fourth man advertising White Springs ice was AB Thornton who purchased ice houses from Knight and another harvester, Daniel Higgins (who eventually owned the entire omnibus line in Geneva), in 1888. More icy tensions are expressed in an article in the Geneva Advertiser by Thornton who disparaged the Cayuga Lake Ice Line that was owned “by the greatest monopoly on the face of the earth, the New York Central Railroad.” He stated “I would like to know how much of the money used to buy Cayuga ice comes back to the merchants of Geneva.”

In 1896, the ice was ten inches thick, formed during the sudden and intense cold weather in Geneva that came without snow and a sample shown by Thornton was universally admired for its purity. By 1899, Thornton was no longer providing ice for retail, but rather supplying ice houses with 12 by 20 inch cakes of ice. Remarks in the Geneva Advertiser in 1900 say Thornton was cutting ice from White Springs for private consumption only and that while the water had never “stood the ordeal of a bacteriological examination,” those who use it say it’s perfectly pure. By this time, Keuka Lake ice was the main source for Geneva ice companies and the city owned the water works.

Who knew that ice could be so contentious!

The ice story continues next month with the Kashong Ice Company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *