Historians to discuss midcoast ice industry

Posted Jan. 03, 2011, at 7:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 04, 2011, at 5:13 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Lily Pond ice from Rockport was noted for its clarity and quantity all up and down the East Coast and the Caribbean in the heyday of ice harvesting; 24,000 tons of ice were shipped out of Rockport in 1894. Ice harvesting was an ideal industry for the midcoast because of the proximity of good ice and the fact that Rockport Harbor remained open all winter.

Gail Frye and Todd McIntosh will give an illustrated talk on the local ice industry at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, at the Camden Public Library.

“The ice industry was going strong in the same time period as the quarry industry,” Frye said, “and used some of the same facilities for storage, loading and of course shipping.”

The McIntosh family ran one of the last ice harvesting businesses on the coast, performing the last harvest of Chickawaukie Lake ice in 1952.

The talk is part of the library’s history series, “Camden’s Industries: Past, Present, and Future” during January.

“Although Rockport shipped the most ice because of the shipping access, Camden also harvested ice at Shirttail Point to ship out of Camden,” said Frye. “Much of the ice in Maine came from the Kennebec, but it wasn’t available until the spring, so Rockport was an important source through the winter. There were several other small ponds and farm ponds that harvested as well. Farmers with their horses provided the labor, and it was an important source of wintertime income.”

This description from the May 1895 trade publication Ice and Refrigeration speaks glowingly of the volume and quality of Rockport ice and ice operations: “The Rockport Ice Co. of Rockport, Maine is one of the heaviest handlers of ice in Maine, and probably ships more ice direct from the water than any other company doing business in that state, their sales in this way for the last three years having been as follows: Cutting season of 1893, 21,000 tons; season of 1894, 24,000 tons; and for season of 1895, 16,000 tons, the shipments for the winter just passed having fallen off, for obvious reasons.

“Rockport is situated on Penobscot Bay, about six miles from Rockland. It has a very convenient harbor to enter, there being plenty of water and ample protection from the winds. The village lies at the head of the harbor. Rockport, then, is an admirable location for an ice shipping firm, having open water during the cutting season, and vessels requiring no towing, the ice houses standing at tidewater; while on the other side of the ship, so to speak, is Lily Pond, one of the purest bodies of fresh water in Maine, and a really ideal ice harvesting field, from which the ice of this company is taken. It is a well known sheet of water and its ice has long had a high reputation among dealers on the Atlantic coast and also among the older Gulf coast men, as well as in West Indian and South American ports, for its purity and general excellence. The pond covers forty acres, is wholly spring-fed, having no surface drainage whatever running into it, so that there is absolutely nothing to effect unfavorably the purity of the water or ice of the pond. The average capacity of the pond in ice under normal conditions is 40,000 to 50,000 tons per season.

“The first to use electric power for handling ice in large quantities, the company rather surprised the trade by setting up two 25 horsepower motors to actuate their machinery, which is an adaptation of the endless chain system for moving ice into the houses or to the loading of vessels. The company can load three vessels at a time, handling 1,500 tons of ice daily onboard vessels and running about the same amount into the houses. The initial power from which the motors are supplied is the wire of the Rockland, Thomaston & Camden Street railroad, the power house being situated at Rockland. The power is convenient and very satisfactory.

“In addition to the winter shipping and summer coastwise trade the company has been sending on an average about 8,000 tons of ice annually to foreign ports, in which trade they have been very successful, including with ice shipments, consignments of vegetables, hay, lumber, ship spars and other merchandise. The company employs an average of 40 men all the year around, not enumerating seamen and ice harvesting force.”

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