Around 800 people from across the country walked on Thompson Pond in South Bristol on Sunday, Feb. 19 for the Thompson Ice House’s annual harvest.
Despite warm temperatures and thinner ice than usual this winter, seven layers of blocks six inches thick were packed in the ice house for the coming year.
“It’s a warm day, we have thin ice … but it’s OK,” Thompson Ice House Preservation Corp. Ken Lincoln said on the bank as blocks of ice slid down a wood conveyor belt and into the ice house behind him.
By noon on Sunday, the temperature was 45 degrees, and water pooled on the surface of the ice. Lincoln said the ice was about 6 inches thick this year and has averaged 10 in the past.
The harvest finished about two hours earlier than usual, according to Lincoln. The larger saw used to score the ice into larger squares couldn’t be used later in the day as the pond warmed.
A rotating row of visitors and volunteers cut ice from squares scored in the morning with this larger saw, which were then pushed down the pond using pike poles through a channel cut in the ice.
Volunteers at the foot of a wooden conveyor belt then pushed blocks up one at a time, where they were shuttled upward by a pulley system and slid down a track into the ice house.
Inside the house, more volunteers stacked the blocks, where they will remain through the summertime.
Alan Houll, of Portland, tried his hand at sawing for the first time on Sunday and said he found it surprisingly easy. He could imagine it would get tiring after a few hours, he said, and the thinner ice may have helped, but he felt the large saw did most of the work for him.
“This is a really unique example of history in action, and we need to preserve that,” he said after handing off his saw to another visitor.
Thompson Pond was created in 1826 when Asa Thompson dammed a brook on his land. An ice harvesting business soon grew and stayed in operation until 1985. The ice house has been a working museum since 1990.
On the banks of the pond, volunteers sold chop suey, baked beans, soups, and hot dogs raising money for the ice house museum corporation. South Bristol School eighth graders sold raffle tickets for a wooden boat and volunteers from the Owls Head Transportation Museum displayed a 1926 Ford Model T snowmobile.
Visitors came from as far away as Los Angeles, Calif., with their cameras in tow. Along with state news channels, the harvest was filmed this year for “America Outdoors,” a PBS program.
Baratunde Thurston, host of the show, said the ice harvest will feature in an episode about how Mainers enjoy the cold in the wintertime. The episode airs July 18.
Thurston said he appreciated the rhythm of the harvest and the range in ages of people working, from toddlers on the ice to harvesters who have participated for decades.
“There’s old tools, old traditions, in an old town, with old people,” he said. “I’m learning they have value.”
The Thompson Ice House Harvesting Museum will open this summer from 1-4 p.m. from July 1 to Aug. 28. Its annual ice cream social using the ice harvested is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 2.
For more information, go to thompsonicehouse.com.