Ice harvesting at Crystal Lake Ill on the Chicago North Western

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The Cold hard tracks

Crystal Lake was once used for harvesting ice. Blocks of ice were cut from the lake in winter, then stored in warehouses along the shore. The ice was shipped in refrigerator cars to Chicago via the “Ice Track,” a 2-mile branch that ran from the C&NW main line through the west side of town to the lake. How that track got there is the stuff of legends.

Charles S. Dole, an early member of the Chicago Board of Trade, purchased 1,000 acres of land overlooking Crystal Lake in the 1860s. He built a fabulous three-story mansion for his family there, along with his own personal horse racetrack. For his daughter’s wedding in 1883, he paid to have a spur built from the Chicago & North Western’s main line west of the depot virtually to his doorstep at the edge of the lake. He did it so that his guests could ride the train from Chicago all the way to his mansion without interruption.

After the wedding the track remained, and in the 1890s, several ice companies bought some of Dole’s land and used the spur to set up the ice business. Crystal Lake ice harvesting ended in 1921, but the final pieces of the “Ice Track” weren’t taken up until the late 1980s.
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