By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
ORRINGTON — The approximately 100-125 people who visited the fifth annual Ice Harvest at the Curran Homestead on Saturday, Feb. 16, got the opportunity to try their skills at cutting ice the old-fashioned way.
Located at 372 Fields Pond Road in Orrington, the Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum preserves a farm, buildings, and more than 30 acres of fields and woods that once belonged to siblings Alfred and Katherine Curran. They “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,” said museum director Bruce Bowden.
The Curran Homestead includes frontage on Fields Pond, from which the Currans harvested ice decades ago. Ice harvesting was a major economic activity during Maine winters in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries; loaded into ships’ holds and packed in sawdust, Maine ice survived the long sea voyages to the Caribbean and even as far as India, where merchants paid premium prices for ice that could cool drinks in tropical climates.
On Feb. 16, museum volunteers used “antique and vintage tools” to harvest ice on Fields Pond, Bowden said. Each ice saw had “coarse teeth and a T-handle,” he pointed out; volunteers and visitors alike enthusiastically cut the ice into blocks that often defied efforts to be hauled out with large ice tongs.
The ice harvest took place in light snow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. During the event, teamster Earl Strandell brought his large draft horses, Charlie and Prince, to the Curran Homestead and connected them to a sledge constructed perhaps 100 years ago. Strandell gave free rides to visitors, hauling them from the farm across the fields to the pond.
According to Strandell, Charlie is a Suffolk, and Prince is a Belgian. “They weight 1,600 [pounds] apiece, very close,” he said. “They’re about 15 years old.”
On Fields Pond, Bowden parked the Curran Homestead’s vintage John Deere tractor near the ice-harvesting site. Converted to wintertime use with a third set of wheels and treads, the tractor towed a small wooden sledge on which volunteers stacked the harvested ice blocks.
“”Right now we just put the ice in the yard for display,” Bowden said. The Curran Homestead seeks funds to restore an existing ice house located on the farm, he indicated.
According to Bowden, visitors appreciated being able to use the traditional ice-harvesting tools and learn how Mainers kept their food cool in ice boxes before the advent of refrigeration. “We are a living-history museum, so it’s important that we let visitors participate in that history,” Bowden said. “This is a good example of that type of participation.”
For information about the Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum, call 356-5076, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.curranhomestead.org.