Maine Ice Harvesting It was a vibrant industry in the late 1800s and while ice harvesting is no longer commercially viable, the tradition is being kept alive in the small town of South Bristol, Maine.
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In Maine, Residents Slice Through Thick Ice To Keep A Tradition From Melting Away

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In Maine, Residents Slice Through Thick Ice To Keep A Tradition From Melting Away

In Maine, Residents Slice Through Thick Ice To Keep A Tradition From Melting Away

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ice harvesting was a thriving industry in the 19th century. Workers used jagged-tooth saws to cut blocks out of frozen rivers and lakes and ponds and then sold it worldwide. Electric refrigeration changed all that. Ice cutting became obsolete except in a few places. Maine Public Radio's Susan Sharon visited one town that is keeping the tradition alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CUTTING)

SUSAN SHARON, BYLINE: It's a postcard-perfect winter scene - a small, snow-covered pond framed by tall trees and a rustic barn. Here in South Bristol, Maine, Ken Lincoln and several other men are out early in the morning doing what they learned to do as kids.

KEN LINCOLN: Cut that next one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This one right here?

LINCOLN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CUTTING)

SHARON: They're cutting the first blocks of ice from the pond. Lincoln is the president of the Thompson Ice House Preservation Corporation, which operates an on-site museum and sponsors the old-fashioned ice harvest every February. He wears thick coveralls and ice grippers on his boots.

LINCOLN: Every year, somebody ends up in the pond, but no tragedies. We grab them out pretty quick (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CUTTING)

SHARON: First, a checkerboard-style design is carved onto the pond's surface using a tool called a scribe. Then volunteers of all ages use handsaws and ice picks to break off the blocks one row at a time and float them toward the icehouse. Lincoln says it's the same process that was used in the 1800s.

LINCOLN: If we didn't do this, then it would go away and be forgotten. And this is one way to keep it a working history.

SHARON: By mid-morning, a crowd has gathered. A 250-pound ice blocks are pushed up a wooden ramp and hoisted by pulley into the icehouse, which is insulated with several inches of sawdust.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're coming at you.

SHARON: The ice blocks glide in like giant, high-speed hockey pucks. Energetic wranglers dodge the heavy blocks, spear them with long picks and stack them one layer at a time until the icehouse is nearly full.

KAREN PRIDE: It's very scary to watch.

SHARON: Karen Pride is from Portland.

PRIDE: You can see that if something did not go right, it would be very bad.

SHARON: Outside, Johanna Gauvreau and Justin Smith of Portland are sitting in heated folding chairs, eating chili and chowder and watching three generations of volunteers take part in the effort. In the past, the couple has helped out, but Gauvreau says this year, they were concerned about the thickness of the ice.

JOHANNA GAUVREAU: It looked a little slippery, a little thin. And I don't have the greatest balance. So we thought we'd just be more spectators this year. Yeah.

JUSTIN SMITH: But support in spirit.

SHARON: The ice is currently about 9 inches thick. That's several inches less than normal. But winter seems to be arriving a little later each year. Still, it's enough ice to sell to local fishermen and boaters and to save for an ice cream social in July. More importantly, it's a way to keep a chapter of New England history frozen in time.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon in South Bristol, Maine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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