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ORRINGTON, Maine — Harvesting crystal clear ice from Maine waterways was once a major industry in the state — with massive blocks sent around the world before the invention of refrigeration — but how did folks who lived 100-plus years ago collect it?
That is what locals can learn from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday during an old-fashioned ice-harvesting demonstration on Fields Pond by members of the The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum, who will be using tools from yesteryear.
“Our objective is to cut ice blocks from the pond surface with authentic tools and equipment from the museum collection in this hands-on activity for the whole family,” Bruce Bowden, the museum’s director, said in a statement.
The pond is across the street from the living history museum, located at 372 Fields Pond Road.
The circa-1890s Curran Homestead was a subsistence farm that used crops, animals, wood and local resources, such as ice from Fields Pond, to provide food, shelter and cash for the Curran family.
Mary Katherine Curran, who died in 1991, asked in her will that the property be preserved, so a group of local volunteers decided to take the dilapidated 30-acre farm and turn it into The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum.
In 1890, 3 million tons of ice were cut and shipped from the state and there were 244 icehouses throughout Maine, including one operated by the Curran family, who owned and operated a dairy on the land and delivered milk and ice to Brewer residents.
“The Currans were typical subsistence farmers and made use of what nature provides, gathering ice in wintertime to keep their dairy herd’s milk cool and fresh during the rest of the year,” Bowden said.
The farm still has an old icehouse that is now used for storage, the museum director said.
“Once we get our icehouse restored, we’ll sock some away,” Bowden said of the ice harvested by locals each winter.
Members also are looking for an old icebox for the farm’s kitchen, he said.
Saturday’s event, which is the fourth annual ice harvest, is free and a great way to teach young and old about the former Maine industry, Bowden said.
The Fields Pond Audubon Center next door also is offering a Saturday program, “Life Under the Ice,” which will educate participants about pond life and how freshwater organisms survive Maine’s cold months.