winter, volunteers headed by the area firefighters,
put in more than 700 “man hours” to
cut nearly 3000 12-inch-thick ice blocks from
a local lake, haul them to downtown Eagle River,
Wisconsin, and build a huge ice palace.
River’s Ice Palace has become a popular
attraction for motorists, snowmobilers, locals
and visitors, as dozens of people stop each
day to photograph the 20-foot high structure
along Highway 45 North.
ice palace is a cool facade that is at once
transparent and opaque, depending on the light,
and it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes,
different each year.
ice castle has been “happening” in
Eagle River on and off since the late 1920s,
with a few years missed in the '40s, probably
due to World War II, and is now constructed
annually, weather permitting, on the weekend
closest to New Years, according to Pat Weber,
chief of Eagle River area’s Volunteer
Eagle River Ice Palace was originated by C.H.
Hanke, who owned the Eagle River ice route
way back when. Hanke’s grandson, Jack
Thomas, a current fire department volunteer
playing a large part in the ice castle’s
construction, was two years old in a photo
of the 1938 ice palace.
asked how the ice palace got its start to,
Thomas speculates, “there probably weren't
a lot of things to do in the winter back then;
and, since my grandfather was cutting the ice
anyway, and probably had some ice leftover,
he began building the early structures.”
may have begun modestly, but the ice palace
has grown, developed and evolved ever since.
to Thomas, the local Lion’s Club took
over construction of the ice palace when it
became too big of a project for a small group
of individuals. Then, about 10 years ago, the
Eagle River volunteer Fire Department took
over the project for the same reasons.
a wonderful project,” comments Fire Chief
Weber. “We take pride in our community
- and we do the ice castle for the same reasons
were volunteer firemen - to serve the community
and the people of the area,” he says.
a different design each year, the ice palace
gets “a little bigger and taller each
time,” Weber notes. Weber says Thomas
studies pictures of previous ice palaces and
plans the general designs.
design we won't repeat is the ice palace we
build that had round towers,” says Weber
with a smile. “It took a tremendous amount
of time and effort to round off each ice block
and the volunteers told me in the no uncertain
terms that would be the last Ice Palace we’d
build with anything round,” he remembers.
volunteers still use some of the original equipment
that Hanke used, including an ice saw and a
conveyor system used to get the ice blocks
from Silver Lake to the pickup truck.
to Thomas, the volunteers used to jack up a
model A Ford and use the rear wheel to turn
the conveyor. Today, the same conveyor is turned
by the hydraulics from a wooden splitter.
the ice is scored and cost on Eagle River’s
Silver Lake. Then, over 2500 blocks of ice
10 x 10 x 20 inches are removed from the lake.
The ice blocks are trucked to the site, and
the construction work begins. And it is WORK!
All done by hand! And although the number of
blocks of varies with the structure, up to
3,000 of the 60-70 pound blocks are used each
photo of the 1940 Ice Palace shows multi-level
parapets, with American flags flying from one
of the towers; a 1942 photo shows an obelisk-shaped
ice castle sporting a ”V” and a
red cross. Another photo, date unknown, shows
a rounded structure, about 20-feet high, with
windows and a door dummied in.
more recent photo shows a group of snowmobilers
posed in front of the wide spread walls of
the ice palace that is garnished by wreaths
and a couple of fir trees.
recent years, colored floodlights have been
added to illuminate the palace at night - 93
floodlights were used in 1997 - and photos
silhouetting people in front of the ice castle
spent all of my growing up years on a resort
ten miles or so out of town (Eagle River),” a
former Eagle River resident wrote the Chamber
of Commerce.” After I grew up and moved
away, I enjoyed it so much seeing it on the
rare visits I could make. .. Last year's ice
palace… was stunning... it's such a special
part of an Eagle River winter!”
ice palace is “one of the most photographed
attractions in our area,” says a Chamber
of Commerce spokesperson. “I'll bet there
have been a million pictures taken of people
in front of an around the ice palace,” echoes
Weber. “I wish I had stock in Kodak,” he
have been weddings, or post wedding pictures,
taken at the ice palace, too. Recently, a travel
journalist, known for his first-hand reports,
asked to stay overnight at the ice castle to
get the “flavor” for his story.
sure brings a lot of wonderful notoriety to
the area, adds Weber. “People just love
it, and so do we.”
addition to all of the volunteer time, costs
involved with erecting the ice castle include
the needed to upgrade and maintain the equipment,
replace bulbs, pay for the gasoline, etc.” notes
local businesses donate money, as well as in-kind
support, providing breakfasts, lunches, cocoa,
soups, sandwiches, and candy for the volunteers.
There is also a donation box and descriptive
information at the back of the structure for
locals and visitors who want to show their
appreciation in support.
on weather, the Ice Castle normally stands
until late February, when the remains are taken
of Commerce Executive Director, Conrad “Connie” Heeg,
mused about the Ice Palace’s impact on
want folks to visit our wonderful community,
but it is a lot more than that: How can you
measure the joy of wide-eyed kids and adults
watching the ice being cut and hauled using
the old equipment, and volunteers building
this ice castle, by hand and then stepping
back to see this huge, utterly beautiful, and
artistic ice structure?
“The “feel” of
the whole thing is special. It is the community
working as one - and untold thousands of visitors
can enjoy it,” notes Heeg.
credit card company is right, ‘ says
Heeg,” when it states: “there are
some things that money can't buy.” The
Eagle River Ice Palace is one of them,” he