How Cold Is It?

by Joanne Nesbit

How cold does it get in Brown County? Not so cold that life comes to a standstill and, with global warming, perhaps even a little warmer than usual. But Brown County was once subject to the Ice Age or Pleistocene Epoch when the northern third of the county was invaded by a glacier made up of Canadian snow mass that spread southward.

The glacier for all practical purposes stopped at the Bean Blossom Ridge, but did manage to ooze through a gap in the ridge near Needmore leaving pebbles, gravel and sand behind.

Freeze and thaw. Freeze and thaw. You thought that scenario just make potholes in the roads. Well, the freeze and thaw of the Illionian glacial period did more than that to Brown County—erosion. When the ice began to melt, the water ran through Brown County sculpting streams, washouts and some valleys. That water also brought flakes of gold, silver, diamonds, topaz, garnets and rubies leaving these tidbits of Canadian treasures in the streambeds.

But once out of that Ice Age and into modern times, these folks in Southern Indiana made the most of a Brown County winter. Harold T. Adams wrote for “Brown County Remembers” that in the early 1900s men cut ice from Salt Creek and put it up in an ice house (one with double walls) for use during the summer.

Three men would cut the ice; two others would load it onto a wagon; and two men were at the icehouse to receive the blocks. The men who were cutting the ice would mark off sixteen squares on the surface, about 2.5 feet on each side. Then they would make a hole through the ice, which was the starting place to saw through with a crosscut saw minus one handle. Once pulled from the creek and loaded on the wagon, the blocks were delivered to the icehouse where they were “laid flat on the floor and four or five inches of old sawdust placed on top of them—just like one would layer a cake, a layer of ice and a thick layer of old sawdust.”

In those early years, there were two storekeepers and one doctor in Nashville who kept ice. And there were a lot of Brown County kids who enjoyed the treat of sucking on a small piece of ice on a hot summer’s day.

In winter Salt Creek was more than just a source of ice for lemonade and ice cream during the summer months. It also was a skating rink. Maurice Miller wrote in “Brown County Remembers” that, “A typical day or evening skating on the creek was not to be forgotten.” Seems that on weekends when there was no school “half of the town’s younger residents could be found skating on the creek.”

Skating in the dim light of evening was quite popular. With some of the driftwood from the creek’s bank and used tires from the local Sinclair station to fuel fires there was light as well as warmth. Miller said that gas lanterns were hung from the overhanging limbs along the creek to give light for the skaters. “Although a bright moonlight was much more to be desired,” he wrote.

A heavy snowfall on the ice didn’t stop the skaters, but just added to the pleasure. Miller remembered “hours would be spent skating up and down with our shovels pushing the snow into long rows three or four feet high. Not only did this clear the ice, but it also gave us hurdles to jump, a feat at which we became quite adept.” The cleared ice also gave the opportunity for a hockey game using a rock for a puck and a stick cut or broken from limbs along the creek’s bank.

“No words can adequately describe the pleasure and the peacefulness of skating on an isolated stretch of the creek in the stillness of the night,” Miller wrote. “The muffled ring of the blades echoing from bank to bank stood out in sharp contrast to the wintry silence in the open, and the eerie shadows cast by the skaters in the soft moonlight as they moved in twos and threes up and down the ice, left one with an indescribable feeling of contentment.”

A few unusually warm days in midwinter or the beginning of the spring thaw should have put an end to skating on Salt Creek. But Brown County youths being what they were and still are, sometimes skated through shallow water on top of the ice. Miller said it was more exciting and challenging with the ice in this precarious condition.

“If the thaw lasted long enough,” Miller wrote, “our fun was soon ended and we would hang up our skates until the next freeze, which could be as much as a year away.

And so with global warming, perhaps the folks in Brown County will have to seek the pleasures of skating on man-made ice in indoor rinks at least 20 miles away to the east or west of Nashville. It could be a long wait until another Ice Age.