MEMPHIS – Since 2009 Mark Celesky and his family have owned and operated the Icehouse Cottage and Concession Stand at the Memphis State Recreation Area.
This spring has been unlike any the Celesky family has seen since taking over the business more than a decade ago.
“It’s a good feeling to be open. There was a lot of uncertainty this spring, so being open is a good feeling,” said Celesky.
The concession stand opened for the first time on May 26, offering Memorial weekend campers a place to purchase last minute snacks, firewood and ice.
The concession stand is open Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through October when outdoor camping surrenders to Mother Nature’s cold temperatures.
For years Memphis SRA has been known for its tent camping, but with the addition of 18 50-amp electric camper pads this summer, Celesky feels like activity at the lake will increase.
“I think it’s great. Having the option to bring in a camper is going to bring more people out here,” Celesky added.
The Icehouse Cottage and concession stand area is a convenience store of sorts according to Celesky.
Campers can find that forgotten item they forgot to pack and kids can find their favorite soda or candy.
Firewood, ice and park permits are also available for purchase inside the concession area. No hunting or fishing licenses are available however.
Celesky also renovated part of the concession stand area and turned it into a two-bedroom cabin available for rent to those who are not looking to “rough it” over the weekend.
Another amenity that Celesky hopes to offer is canoe rental.
Last season’s flooding totaled the dock near the concession stand and launching the canoes became impossible.
“We are hoping to get the canoe rental up and going again this summer,” Celesky added.
It’s not a coincidence that Celesky sells ice at his concession stand; he is proud of the history that surrounds the Memphis SRA and his business.
In February 1887, the first Burlington iron horse rumbled through Memphis.
Not long after grain elevators, a post office, general mercantile stores and other businesses were providing goods and services to members of the burgeoning community.
Ten years later, the Armour and Company Icehouse was built in the northwest corner of the town on a 154 acre site. Measuring 180 feet wide, 700 feet long and 52 feet high, it was one of the largest icehouses in the United States.
The icehouse sat on the edge of a 100 acre manmade lake. Ice harvesting began when the ice was at least eight inches thick.
The surface of the frozen lake was scored and sawed into smaller cakes of ice. The ice cakes were poled along an open channel in the lake to icehouse elevators and then taken into the rooms, where they were packed in sawdust. The sawdust served as insulation, helping to preserve the ice into the summer months. A 300-horsepower steam engine and two coal-fired generators provided electrical power for the building.
The ice was used in refrigerated railcars, meat-packing plants and other businesses in eastern Nebraska. It was common to ship 100 or more railcars of ice each month during the summer. In 1899, 100,000 tons of ice was harvested.
The icehouse was destroyed by fire in 1921.
Harvesting still continued for several years after that but the ice had to be loaded directly into railroad cars or sent to local customers.
Ice harvesting came to an end as the demand for the products lessened. By the 1920s, manufactured ice and refrigerators were becoming popular.
“The history of this place is really cool. One of the largest icehouses in the United States sat right here a century ago. I’m proud to be a small part of this amazing place,” Celesky added.
In 1999, a Nebraska Historical Marker telling the story of the Armour and Company Icehouse was dedicated at Memphis State Recreational Area. The marker is on the east side of the lake where the icehouse once stood.