One of the topics for the New England Icons book I’m working on, with Bruce Irving, is Ice Houses. I traveled to the north coast of Maine to capture the traditional ice harvest at the Thompson Ice House. What a fantastic day and experience. This annual harvest brings out the locals and the tourists for a day of fun, wonderment and work.
Being early, I was quickly recruited to help cut the first lanes of blocks headed to the ice house. “….not just up and down. Use a circular motion.” I was told. This is hard work. Even though the lanes are pre-cut or scored about 8 inches down, the final 8+ are up to you and the 19th century 5 foot hand saw. I lasted one lane… about 6 ice blocks. Luckly after the first two lanes are cut the saw is only need for the ends. The whole lane can be broken off using long “forks” in the scoring.
The most dangerous job, by far, is stacking the ice blocks in the ice house. The large blocks weighing a few hundred ponds come flying down the ramp then strong-armed into possition. This job seemed reserved for the 20 somethings of the village…
Ice was once New Englands greatest export.
Read Bruce’s article “When Ice was Hot” to learn more about the history of new england ice trade.