Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thompson Ice House Museum

Believe it or not, ice used to be a product from Maine and New Hampshire.

On the Sunday of President's Day weekend, there is a traditional ice harvest at Thompson Ice House Museum in South Bristol, Maine.

Even though it was a bit of a drive for us, we really wanted to see the harvest at least once.

Fresh water blocks of ice were used for preserving food before refrigeration.

The ice from this ice house was sold to local families, businesses and fishermen, plus shipped on clipper ships to Boston, New York and the Caribbean.

When we arrived at 10:30 a.m., the ice house was already partially filled, to about 4 feet high (3.3 meters).

The ice house is right next to the ice pond.

This motorized cutter was used to cut the ice longways. (Before motors, horse-drawn cutters were used.)

Traditionally, the ice would be harvested as soon as it was 12 inches thick.

Handsaws cut the short side of the ice blocks.

Pond ice was prized because it was dense and long-lasting.

Even today, the ice in the ice house will last until the beginning of September.

The far end of the pond is open to skaters and hockey players. That area of the pond is fed by springs, so the ice is a bit softer and is not harvested.

We did see a few dogs at the event, although Bailey waited in the car.

After the ice is cut, it is pushed along this channel.

Then it travels on this adjustable ramp

into the ice house. It moves very quickly down the ramp into the ice house.

A pickup truck was providing the power to hoist the ice, however horses would have been used originally.

A group of ice wranglers waits inside the house to catch the blocks and position them.

Luckily for us, they take breaks between layers, or the ice house would have been full before we arrived.

Historically, it took a team of 18 men 3 full days to harvest the ice and fill the ice house. The horse drawn cutters had to make multiple passes across the ice for the long cuts in the ice.

A small museum of various ice tools fills one side of the ice house.

The wooden plow would have been pulled by horses to keep the ice pure and snow-free. (Snowy ice is less dense and doesn't last as long).

If you have ice tools to donate to the ice house museum, they'd love to have them!

This ice will be sold to commercial fishermen, as well as used to chill ice cream at the annual ice cream social over the July 4 weekend.

There were snacks, mugs and T-shirts for sale, plus a few signs explaining how the ice house worked.

Between this visit to the ice house, the igloo in Exeter, and the icy walking trails behind our house, I think ice has been my theme for this week!

More information to help you plan a visit:
Boston Globe Article
2010 listing on


Chris said...

You have so many great resources where you live. I love these photos. It reminds me of the family camp that my mother took us to when we were young.

Acorn to Oak said...

That's really interesting. I've never heard of or seen anything like that. Thanks for sharing it.

Virginia said...

Oh wow, never really knew about ice harvesting! Very cool post, thanks for sharing!

Dave Daniels said...

Wow, that is really great! I've heard they did that but never seen it done. I've got to look for this and check it out. Excellent photos.

Theresa said...

How fun! Well, not for Bailey but I bet he got a walk somewhere afterwards.
I can only imagine the studs/caulks they had to use on those horses to keep them stable on the ice. Any pictures of the horses on the ice working? Curious about the harnesses and if the cutter offset. I would imagine smaller draft like horses would have been better than the big guys.
Thanks for the links. Off to check them out!

Delighted Hands said...

My grandpa used to work on the ice crew.......great post!

Julie said...

What a fun day and great pictures! It looks really cold but I guess it needs to be!

charlotte said...

This was great fun to read, I've wondered for a long time how ice cutting was actually done. There are three ponds within half a kilometres distance from our house, and in the old days, ice was cut there and transported about one kilometre down to the sea for shipping. There are still rusty parts of ice cutting machine left in the ponds and the surrounding swamps. Thank you so much again for showing this!

Deanna said...


Cindie Kitchin eweniquely ewe said...

wow - how interesting - thanks for sharing pictures and the details - hard to believe it lasts in the barn for so long.

Synnøve. said...

This was a verry interesting reading.
A verry special place I imagen.
Nice to see how they did it, long time ago.

But I should be afraid to go on the ice. What if the ice brake?

Thanks for the tour to the Ice house museum.
Hugs Synnöve.

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

Love the pictures of the ice house. We have a similar ice harvest here in January and then come July, there's an ice cream social. Such a community-building festival.

bspinner said...

Ice house. I can remember my cousins have an ice house on their farm. I was a kid and don't remember why since we all had electrical power and we didn't have one on our farm. Kind of fun. We used to chip ice off the blocks and eat in the summer. Sure was good!!!
Thanks for the pictures. Interesting!!!

Benita said...

As a history loving person, I am green with envy of your cool experience!!

Sara said...

That would have been something that I would have loved to see. Maybe I'll try and go next year.

Leigh said...

Interesting museum! When I was a child, we would go up to a friend of the families cabin in Wisconsin. It was right on the lake, no plumbing, but it did have an old ice house. I never saw it in use, but then it was just a summer cottage by that time.

Jennifer said...

That was SOOOOOO cool! It's unbelievable that they could stand on the edge of the ice without it cracking. Thanks for sharing! I understand the igloo better!

Sharon said...

I sure do appreciate you taking all those pictures and putting them together so we can see this experience. I knew about ice but I've never seen it harvested. Thanks for taking on that trip.

Annie said...

Interesting! (And very cool indeed)Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

If you ever make it to the coastal part of Texas, be sure to stop by the Ice House Museum in Silsbee, Texas (just north of Beaumont). It was started in 1928 by Gulf States Utilities to manufacture ice. Situated beside the rail road tracks it was instrumental in food shipping and supplying locals with ice.