Frozen Over – Ice Harvesting, Travel, & Play

Leelanau Enterprise Feb 10, 1927.
Automobiles Travel on Ice this Winter - Leelanau Enterprise Feb. 10, 1927

"Automobile travel is more common on Lake Leelanau this winter than ever before. At first only a novel ice sport, indulged in by a few, it is now a regular mode of travel between Leland and East Leland.

While the main roads are being kept open by the snow plow, it was not considered imperative to keep open the road leading north from the village of Lake Leelanau along the east shore of the lake, consequently East Lelanders were unable to use the open roads. The lake was the only outlet and a car road was made to the ice at Porter's Landing. Deep snow made it impossible to ascend the hill past the golf links, so the automobiles were driven west past Brady's Point and Harrison's, to strike the road and M-22 at Bury's.

Only a few of the more adventurous at first adopted this means of travel, but it is no longer unusual to see one or more automobiles on the lake at any time during the day or evening.

Some of the fishermen have decided not to waste their valuable time in walking to their shanties, and now drive to their several places of business."

Skimming the recently digitized local historic newspapers, we were amused to discover this article from the Leelanau Enterprise during the winter of 1927. This mode of transportation seems novel and very dangerous in today’s standards. Mainly because it’s rare to see Lake Leelanau frozen over to the point it’s safe to cross it with a car. To give perspective on where this crossing was, refer to the historic 1936 map of the north section of Lake Leelanau, below. Brady’s Point and Porter’s Landing would have been the shortest path at which to cross the lake.

Ice has been at the center of winter life here in Leelanau County for centuries. Being a county surrounded on three sides by large fresh bodies of water, and numerous inland lakes and streams, there is no shortage of ice during the winter months. Ice could be many things to different folks. A burden to boats, getting stuck out in the lake, or blocked access to harbors. A mode of travel across its frozen surface, either on foot, or by sled, or as the above newspaper article reads, automobiles even!

Ice was even considered a commodity and was harvested when conditions were just right. It was quite the production that occurred out on the lakes, cutting and hauling it up and off to be stored in ice houses. The ice was stored for distribution to locals for their personal iceboxes (before electric refrigerators were available), and for packing locally caught fish off to buyers. Ice harvesting has a long history here in Leelanau County. Read more about Fishtown’s ice harvesting history here.

Ice was also enjoyed as entertainment. Outside of the standard ice skating and fishing, ice boating was popular. A common scene that can still be seen today on Lake Leelanau.

Enjoy this image gallery of all the various forms of work and play that have occurred on Leelanau’s frozen waters.

We encourage you to explore more historic photographs in the historical society’s online archives.
Discover more fun newspaper clippings like the one mentioned above on the Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal. This is a recent accomplishment of the Leelanau Historical Society, proudly making 11 historic Leelanau County newspapers available online as a free resource for anyone wanting to dig into Leelanau’s intriguing past.