Miller Mills Ice Harvest

Millers Mills community maintains the authenticity of a 19th century ice harvest by using old hand tools to saw, separate, and load the ice blocks on to horse-drawn sleighs. The only exception is the antique gas-powered machine used to score the ice the day before. This ensures that the blocks are relatively uniform in size. Families from all over New York drive, snowmobile, and even skate their way to the concisely cut checkerboard of ice on Unadilla Lake in Herkimer County, New York for what many call an absolute wintertime necessity.

The community of residents, grange and church volunteers, teamsters, fire and ambulance personnel, and local highway departments welcome guests to an abundant harvest of ice blocks averaging over 14 inches per 200-pound block.

Founded in 1790 by Andrew Miller and his six sons who ran a gristmill and sawmill from the sacred headwaters, the kind folks of Herkimer County have upheld the importance and nostalgia of old-time refrigeration and the tools to get the job done. Without modern refrigeration, ice blocks were stored in outdoor sheds, such as the one  behind Millers Mills Free Baptist Church. The blocks were covered with heavy straw and often lasted well into the summer.

Today, the ice harvest is a true “all hands on deck” seasonal event which originates from scoring the ice, sawing, and floating the blocks, sliding the cubes onto the awaiting sleighs with teams of horses, delivering the frozen majesty to the ice house, and finally packing and stacking the massive chunks in sawdust.

This tradition has been widely publicized and attracted national attention with visits by noted CBS television personality and newsman, Charles Kuralt in his On the Road segment on 60 Minutes in the 1980s.

Kathy Huxtable and Robert “Ice Man” Wheelock, longtime volunteers, explain, “It’s about keeping the tradition alive and showing young people work can be fun along with events, such as the always popular ice-cream social and July 20th’s Sundae Run, aka The Boilermaker “Cool Down Event”.

For more information, visit Millers Mills online or call 315-822-6860.

Cheese Making

Cheese Making at Twin Pines Farm

New York State in 19th Century

Cheese Knife

D.G. Young’s Fact Sheet & Cheese Knife

My great great grandfather, Deacon Golden (D.G.) Young was part of a group of cheese makers in the mid-1800s who made the famous “Herkimer County Cheese”. Having patented a cheese-making knife that separated the curd, D.G. traveled throughout New England and as far west as Ohio to promote his knives, as well as make cheese on Twin Pines Farm. In the lithograph in my book, The Well, the cheese house is visible in the background behind the farmhouse.

According to historian Eunice Stamm who wrote The History of Cheese Making in New York State (1991), “On January 6, 1864, a group of dairymen, cheese-makers and manufacturers assembled at the Courthouse in Rome, NY.  Led by Jesse Williams (who established the first cheese factory in 1851), they formed an association for the purposes of upgrading cheese making and promoting the welfare of dairymen.”

In the 19th century, Herkimer County was the cheese-making center of the United States. The art of cheese making was brought to this country by the Palatine Germans, but was quickly adopted by all the settlers. In 1851, one of Herkimer County’s cheese makers entered some cheeses in the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, England. In a few weeks, word came back that the cheese had won first place! Also, one of the first international uses of the telegraph for commercial purposes was to send prices at the Herkimer Cheese market.

Statistics show that from 1870 to 1877, over two million pounds of cheese were produced in one farm alone. From 1864 to 1870, Herkimer County (where Twin Pines Farm is located) was the largest cheese market in the world. Buyers came from all over on market day. In an average season, 25 to 30 million pounds of cheese were sold in Herkimer County, and then shipped all over the world. The practice continued into the 20th century.

Herkimer County’s claim to fame in the 19th century centered on the cheese business. At weekly open-air markets usually held on Mondays, the haggling over prices took place with many dealers present. These markets set the national and international cheese prices in the third quarter of the century.

Herkimer County developed a type of farm with diversified crops like wheat, barley, and peas, their principal agricultural exports circa 1800. Adverse weather conditions and newly available canal transportation brought radical change to this farming region in the following decade. The old Erie Canal brought western New York State grains to Albany and New England two weeks before the local crops were ready to harvest. Cheap western land and a higher annual yield resulted in a business with which New York farmers could not compete. Many families experienced financial ruin. 1816, the year with devastating weather conditions and no summer, brought blizzards in July which destroyed the traditional crops. Grass was the only successful crop of the season. Farmers who turned to grazing and the butter and cheese business found it lucrative in most instances. This was the case with my great, great grandparents, in addition to producing the milk for the cheese and the grain for the dairy.

Arc Poetica

Arc Poetica

a Japanese White Eye in her nest sings
her world together in strands

the metallurgy of morning
copper sky, ocher sea from last night’s storm
tinny sounds of traffic on the lower road

then quiet
the mind arranges like a Mozart chord
nothing budges, a hush of grace says:

write it down

Published in Voce Piena December 2004

Selection of Poems from The Well: Poems from Twin Pines Farm

Video of Nancy reading from The Well


Something in me wants
to walk again from Providence
with them—living, dead,
and unborn. Their lives wound
tightly in me. Now they are names
in our bible. Some birthed
in snowstorms, others
in spring thaw or born on Thursday
so I could plant corn on Friday.

She Did What She Could (Rhoba Williams McKoon’s headstone)

Move me, wheel, from the sea, by the Hudson, through woods, fields.

My hand on your rim. Growling bellies, oxen smells. Make my feet go with my prayers.

Have I brought what I need for the world ahead? Who will ask for my stories?

Will I find my Snakeroot and Sweet Ciceley? Will the peonies survive? Will I find good dirt, water for a well?

Lifting My Granddaughter To The Well

A soft fold over the edge, pink shoes lifted, her image buoyant in the water below. She stares into the cylindrical dark, past moss and motted snails pulled back in their casings. Her face disappears in the bucket splash.

The and then not.

Now the earth’s sweet liquid brims, spills and falls back on the grass, circles through roots to the well, the river, and the bass pond.



Nut brown sparrow, my operatic companion.
No sound from my poem, just her
three quick notes and a jumble of trills.

Warm April in the Peninsula suburb,
language in my hand. Stir of time,
branching a new way to write. I hear

her insistence. Silence is suspended
again. I walk closer in the cut grass
and ask her pardon for my intrusion.

Fledglings emerge from the birdhouse,
perch on the edge of the rim, falter, fall
away from the rail to damp earth.

She sings to them from her perch.
Her sound rides spring exhalations
from new leafed oaks and lilacs.

I hope for the third try and their wings lift,
song-filled and with new memory
of flight under wind-streaked feathers.

Published in Birdland Journal January 2020