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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

Dusting Off Some Local History: "Sharpening Ice Skates"

By Greg Kocken, Archivist, UW-Eau Claire,

This winter I plan to introduce my daughter to ice skating. She has an affinity for all things winter, but I anticipate ice skating will prove to be very challenging for her. My own ice-skating skills are rather suspect, so I expect we will be learning to skate alongside each other. Across Wisconsin, ice skating is a popular winter pastime. In the Eau Claire area, the number of ice rinks available to the public is expanding this winter thanks to demand and popularity.

The first ice skates, bones fastened to shoes, emerged over 1,000 years ago in Scandinavia. These first ice skaters propelled themselves forward with the use of special sticks. Eventually, metal blades would be produced, and boots customized for holding blades would be manufactured. For centuries, ice skating was an important means of transportation in countries with long, cold winters. During the 1700s, ice skating rose in popularity across Europe as a leisure activity. The sport soon crossed the Atlantic and became popular in North America.

In the late 1800s, one of the most popular locations for ice skating in the Eau Claire area was Half Moon Lake. Once the lake froze, often in November, boys would grab shovels to clear the snow and create a patch for skating. In the early 1900s a warming shelter was added, and a local skating club mustered its members to ready a rink on the lake each winter. Eventually, the task of maintaining rinks across the city became the responsibility of the parks department.

My last adventure ice skating resulted in a dislocated shoulder which took months to heal. I hope, for the sake of my daughter, this winter’s adventure will be fun with fewer bruises. Perhaps I might need to invest in some knee and elbow pads for myself too!

Is there a local history mystery or topic you want to know more about? Do you have a suggestion for an upcoming column of “Dusting Off?” Please contact Greg at the UW-Eau Claire archives. He would love to hear from you.


In addition to lakes and ponds, athletic fields were often flooded to create ice staking rinks. In this ca. 1915 image a skater poses on a rink in Eau Claire.

Courtesy UWEC Archives, Daniel Nelson Collection.

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