A Visit to the Thompson Ice House

Barb here. (Or rather there. I’m actually in Key West.)

My latest Maine Clambake Mystery, Iced Under, explains how my protagonist, Julia Snowden’s family made their fortune in the “frozen water” trade. I had a lot of fun researching the ice industry and I’ve written about some of my sources here, on the Wicked Cozy Authors blog.

When a Maine friend told me there was an ice house museum on the Bristol peninsula, one of my favorite places in Maine, I was all over it.

The Thompson Ice House Harvesting Museum is quite different from the industrial ice trade I describe in Iced Under. The museum is on a small pond, not a river. The ice harvested there was used locally, delivered to residents of South Bristol for their ice boxes as well as supplying a critical resource to fisherman and those involved in the transport of seafood caught locally.

The ice house

The pond on a summer day

One of the coolest things about the museum is that every year, they still cut ice there in the old way. The date for ice cutting this year is February 19, 2017. Everyone who comes is welcome to help with the harvest.

Here’s a video from 2012. Be sure to stay until the end when they load the ice into the ice house. There’s an even better, more informative, video you can view when you tour the museum.

For those who may not want to freeze their rears off harvesting ice in Maine in February, the museum also sponsors an ice cream social in July, this year on July 2, 2017. The ice cream is handmade, cranked with ice from the ice house.

The ice cutter–kind of a cross between a snow blower and a plow

The Thompson Ice House Harvesting Museum exists because of the generous gift of the land and buildings by the Thompson family, along with diligent fundraising and volunteering by year-round and season residents of the Bristol area. I love these kinds of back roads attractions and completely recommend a visit next time you find yourself near Pemaquid.

(All photos by Bill Carito. If you like Bill’s photos and want to see more, you can follow him on Instagram @billcarito and @bill.carito.colorphotos and friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bcarito.)

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About Barb Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, Fogged Inn and Iced Under. Stowed Away, the sixth book in the series will be published in December, 2017. See her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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7 Responses to A Visit to the Thompson Ice House

  1. Gram says:

    Great article and great pix! We had an ice box until I was around 10 years old…no more deliveries of ice or we would never have gone electric.

  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    I live in a semi rural area of north central Ohio home to the largest population of Amish in the world. Many of them still harvest ice to use in their ice chests…repurposed chest freezers mostly although some are made from scratch. The men of the communities harvest off the local ponds as soon as the ice is at least 7 inches thick. The central ice houses are lined with up to 30 inches of Styrofoam insulation. The supply usually lasts them till late October when the temperature drops and food can be stored on the porch until more ice is harvested. We also have a local ice company that will deliver block ice if needed.

    There used to be a huge ice harvesting and selling business in a town about 8 miles from my place. Railroad cars were filled with ice harvested from Odell’s Lake. Big Prairie supplied ice all the way to the big cities of the East Coast as well as locally. With the advent of electric refrigeration the business dried up, but you can still see photos in local banks and the post office.

  3. Interesting post, Barb. My grandparents had a small, spring-fed pond on their farm in the foothills of New York’s Catskill Mountains. My grandmother’s brothers harvested ice from it to sell locally and it was also used for ice skating, for swimming and boating in the summer (when they took in boarders from “the city”) and year round for fishing. This was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

  4. bethc2015 says:

    What a fun post. I was not aware of this museum. Your pictures were wonderful. I would like to see both the ice harvest and the ice cream social. Thanks for sharing this interesting resource. Something I would have liked to have done with my girl Scout troop.

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