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The Sutherland’s Ice House
The most recent AAA tour book says, “From North St. Vrain Creek a secondary road leads into Wild Basin.” That does not really tell the story of the road from what is now Highway 7 to Copeland Lake. Many of us know that John B. Copeland homesteaded 320 acres in 1889 and that he was gone by 1914. The lake, probably originally the work of beavers, was shored up by the owners of Copeland Lake Lodge, and I can remember as a child that the road swept within just a few yards of what appeared to be an all too frail dam.
John may have abandoned it, but the lake became an important part of the life of the summer people in Tahosa Valley, and not just because it provided excellent opportunities for fishing and swimming and the sailing of toy boats.
Yes, incredible as it may seem, we did all those things in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
But these activities, as fascinating as they must sound in this silicon-powered time, paled beside Copeland Lake’s primary function in those days; it provided ice.
A family by the name of Sutherland lived down at the bottom of the Cabin Creek meadow, just before the road went up to Boney’s in Big Elk. The Sutherlands were a fecund group, to say the least. There were always little ones running around, several of them my age, and we grew up together, though in quite disparate directions. They cut wood, had a saw mill which provided lumber in case you wanted to build something, and were always available to do some work around the place, as long as you weren’t too insistent on when it was done. But most importantly, they had the ice house.
You can read all about how Alexander MacGregor hauled ice in 1877, but the fact was that a lot of ice was still being hauled in 1947. They hauled it from Copeland Lake, cutting it with long cross-cut saws they stored in the ice-house. And while MacGregor stored his ice in straw, the Sutherlands were no dopes; they used sawdust, which was a by-product of their little mill.
We had an ice-box outside our cabin – I wonder what it would be worth today. We gleefully took it to the dump when the electricity was put in – and when the block began to dwindle, not only from keeping the food cool, but because we kept chipping pieces off to put in grown-up gin and tonics or in little boy and girl mouths, we would go off to the Sutherland’s.
The ice-house itself was a low, gray building, sunk into the swell of the hill. With several pairs of ice tongs hanging on either side of the door, it looked like a bunker hiding untold horrors. The inside, however, was wonderfully cool, with only the light from the open door to illuminate the step-like shapes of the great blocks, shrouded in sawdust, waiting for the jab of the long ice pick to create the block which would then be seized in the tongs and hung by one handle on the crude scale. A penny a pound was the going rate—it never went up or down until the day they went out of business.
The Sutherlands have been gone for many years.
The site of the ice-house has returned to the grass meadow it was before any of us arrived. Copeland Lake is still a reservoir for the City of Longmont, and swimming is forbidden. I now buy ice in ten pound bags and we only have one size, for $1.25.
Still, when I reach into the Whirlpool for a cube or two for my iced tea, and wander off for a nice sit-down on the screened porch, I think of the Sutherlands out there on Copeland Lake in the dead of winter and wish that some things, but not all, certainly, could be the way they were, in those halcyon days when that solid “thunk” announced the arrival of a new 60-pound piece of cool on a hot summer day.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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