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An Icy Toast to Summer

About right now, I’m thinking about sitting on the dock, staring out at the St. Lawrence and sipping on a MacDac. It’s the dead of winter, but that one image is the very essence of summer.

MacDac is a rum drink that my father-in-law concocted and is an integral part of summer life on Rum Rock and the very reason for the name of our point. Some might say it’s the rum that makes the drink. Others might argue that it’s the hard to pronounce and sometimes hard to find Orgeat Syrup that really gives the drink its unique taste. But in the end, it is the ice.

Husband and MacDac aficionado, Gary, explains that the key to a great MacDac is temperature. That means ice. Lots of ice. The perfectly poured MacDac is shaken vigorously and served in a highball glass with lots and lots of ice. And I mean vigorously. Conversations on the dock or porch often come to a complete halt when Gary is shaking up a batch. Children have been known to burst into tears because they are so startled by the din.

So having lots and lots of ice readily available is a Rum Rock priority. Poor Uncle Otis and Aunt Alice with their tent, wood-burning cook stove and ice box. They would never have been able to store enough ice to properly serve an evening round of MacDacs.

Back in the late-1800s and early-1900s, ice on the island was a precious commodity. There was an entire ice industry here in the Thousand Island Region. Ice was usually harvested in February or as soon as the ice was thick enough. To support the teams of men and draft horses needed to harvest the ice, the optimum thickness was 15 inches. The ice would be cut into huge 200-pound slabs, pushed with poles onto sleds, then stacked into icehouses. The large blocks of ice were insulated with sawdust. Hotels would have had their own icehouses to supply ice for the throngs of people that would be arriving in the summer. The same trains that were bringing tourists from the city would return to the cities loaded with ice. 

There were several icehouses around Grenell. Olivia Pratt writes in The Story of Grenell, that Hub House kept their icehouse on the lot next to Rum Rock. In 1885, eighteen months after the hotel burned, George Pabst and wife camped in the icehouse while they built their new cottage.

The Grenell Island Store, of course, had an icehouse and sold ice. William Hinds remembers delivering ice to the cottages as a lad. You had to be a strong guy to deliver ice! The ice tongs alone weight 42 pounds. Imagine lifting a 50-pound slippery block of ice and throwing it over your shoulder. The cottages on the south side of the island were easily accessible by wagon or wheelbarrow, but the cottages on the north side had to be serviced by skiff.

Ken Barber remembers his dad telling him about delivering ice on the north side on a summer day. He rowed over the chunk of ice in the skiff. When he got to the dock he picked up the 50-pound block, but it slipped out of the ice tongs, and fell back into the skiff, ripping a huge hole in the bottom of the boat, which sank immediately. 

A typical icebox of the day was a much smaller version of today’s refrigerator and made out of wood—usually oak, ash or pine. Iceboxes were lined with galvanized tin and insulated with cork or straw. The average icebox was designed to hold either a 25-pound or 50-pound block of ice. Sometimes the block of ice didn’t fit and it had to be chipped into place. It wasn’t unusual for children to chase after the ice cart hoping to get a large chip of ice to suck on.

In 1900, the average cost for a 25-pound block of ice was about 15 cents. How long would that last? That depended on how hot it was. Probably two days. Only one day, if it was very hot out. Built into the bottom of the icebox was a pan the melted ice drained into. This pan had to be emptied frequently ---otherwise there would be water all over the kitchen floor. And if you needed ice for lemonade or ice tea, you had to chip the ice pieces from the block with an ice pick. MacDac-making would have been even more complicated. (And after a few batches, perhaps even a little dangerous.)

When electricity came to the island, people began buying refrigerators, making the need for icehouses and ice delivery obsolete. In 1967, the summer Gary was 14, he worked at the Grenell Island Store for the season. One of the things he was tasked with was tearing down the old icehouse.

There are still a couple of icehouses on the island. Bay View has a stone icehouse built into the rock wall behind the cottage. A great place for an icehouse as the spot is in perpetual shade on the north side of the cottage. The door of the icehouse was conveniently located two-steps away from the kitchen door. The Smith family also had a small stone icehouse built into a rock wall. A small stream runs through the back of the icehouse, which helped keep the contents cool.

Icehouses were often re-appropriated into cottages or boathouses even in the days when icehouses were a necessity. Catherine Hinds says her cottage—formally known as Ojibway Inn and informally as The Crooked House--was formed when three icehouses were pulled across the ice and cobbled together into a cottage. Diane Cordes is certain her cottage, The St. Lawrence Hilton, was an icehouse before fashioned into a boathouse/cottage.

We have an old pair of ice tongs in the laundry room, though I’m not sure why. As far as I know there was never an icehouse on our little point. Perhaps Uncle Otis “borrowed” ice from the Hub House icehouse next door. Hmmm. With an icehouse right next door, perhaps there was enough ice available for a shaker or two of MacDacs. I have a feeling Otis would have enjoyed a MacDac on a sweltering afternoon. But until I’ve figured out a way to time travel, I’ll just raise a glass and thank Uncle Otis for his foresight at buying our little point of pines.

By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island

This is Lynn’s 65th article for TI Life…  She is not only  a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life, but Lynn and her husband Gary, continue to give us a special look at Island life in the past and just yesterday.   This editor continues to marvel at Lynn’s choice of subjects and her ability – this month of January - to make us look forward to Summer 2014 – and more ice!    See all of Lynn’s 60+ articles here.


Posted in: History, Nature
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Dan Morrow
Comment by: Dan Morrow ( )
Left at: 5:18 PM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Great read!
Comment by: Margaret ( )
Left at: 10:34 PM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
We had a conversation about the ice man this evening. Reading your brought back more memory's of the ice man delivering the ice. As well as the milk, egg and bread man. Thanks for the memory's. A question, how do you make your rum drink? I know it's an almond base simple syrup. A recipe please.
George Wambach
Comment by: George Wambach ( )
Left at: 10:33 AM Thursday, January 16, 2014
We have a room on the north side of our cottage on surveyor island in ivy lea that we still refer to as the ice house. I remember my father going in and getting a block of ice . He would take it to the rivers edge and dip it in the river several times to get the sawdust off he would than put into a wooden box like the one mentioned in the article above. The ice box was located on the porch adjacent to the kitchen. The memory I am speaking about was probably in the late 40's. The ice box was replaced with a propane refrigerator at some point probably in the 50'.
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh ( )
Left at: 1:06 PM Thursday, January 16, 2014
My son gave the "recipe" to the bar guys at his wedding, hoping they could serve up this special family drink. It was AWEFUL! It's really more about he process and shaking with ice. Shaking vigorously with ice.

Equal parts of orange juice, lemon juice, and a mixture of simple syrup and orgreat syrup. That total quantity is mixed with an equal share of light rum. That is shaken vigorously with lots of ice for at least 30 seconds and then served over ice. Lots of ice.

Sorry I can't be more detailed...I've had many many batches in my life time, but I've never made a batch myself.
Comment by: CJ ( )
Left at: 1:37 PM Thursday, January 16, 2014
Whats the recipe for a MacDac? Is it a guarded secret or could other islanders enjoy the cocktail this summer. I know your story has me day dreaming of the islands.
Jane Hores
Comment by: Jane Hores ( )
Left at: 10:03 AM Saturday, January 18, 2014
I always look forward to your articles. Thanks for another interesting read.
We have some interesting ice paraphernalia at our cottage. We have a small ice box like the one you described. Come on over this summer and take a look.
Can't wait to get back to the river!
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh ( )
Left at: 10:46 AM Sunday, January 19, 2014

can't wait to kayak over and get a look at it!

Looking forward to summer as well!
Comment by: Hilary ( )
Left at: 2:20 AM Wednesday, January 22, 2014
This article brought to mind a wonderful Wellesley Islander, Lyle Nunn, now a resident of the Great Island in the sky. How I loved listening to his tales of a variety of winter activities, including harvesting ice from the river.
Lyle was never one to cuss or complain, but did admit to a painful mishap that could have cost him his life. While stocking ice for Thousand Island Park, an enormous block came sliding down a ramp at lightening speed, slamming directly into his back and pinning him facedown to the ground. But like his stories of draught horses run amuck, he survived the experience, dusted himself off, and went back to work. As always, I asked, "Were you afraid?" He simply replied, "You didn't think about that. You had a job to do and you did it."
Certainly my own life's experiences aren't nearly as dramatic when it comes to icehouses, but I did enjoy living in the lovely one on Wintergreen Island (right across from Grenell) for a couple of summer seasons. Its thick door and walls provided a cool and comfortable atmosphere for my work, which was more along the lines of mixing libations...with plenty of easily-obtained ice. In that regard, I was shakin' a bit too!