Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Life in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's

Ken and Marge Wille

By the Third, Fourth and Fifth Graders at
Harpswell Islands &
West Harpswell Schools

A 1997-98 Harpswell History Project

Gladys Abby Allen
Allen's Seafood
Henry Barnes
Alice Catlin
Donald Coffin
Daniel Darling
The Dead Ship of Harpswell
Clem Dunning
Judith Howard
Harpswell Hotels
Bernard Johnson
Roy Knight & Cliff Moody
Arnold LeMay
Arnold LeMay
Becky Longley
Currier McEwen
Rob Miller
Barbara Munsey
Don Rogers
Alice Swallow
Dick Westcott
Malcolm Whidden
Ken & Marge Wille
Mary Wilson
Mary & Eleanor Wilson
The Witch Of Harpswell
Gerry York

Ken and Marge Wille

Ice Harvesting

We asked the Willes to talk about the ice harvesting business. Many generations ago Ken's family began ice harvesting at Gun Point. The ice pond there was first used in 1868. Ice was used as supplies for refrigeration in cities when people just had iceboxes, not refrigerators. Gun Point pond had originally been a salt-water cove. It was spring-fed with fresh water, so once it was dammed off, it became a fresh water pond. Ice was stored right by the side of the pond on Gun Point. Then it was transported to the city by sailing ship. The workers would move the ice from the icehouse by gravity. It would slide down a long ramp about 100 yards into Gurnet Cove.

After the larger New England ice companies took more control of the ice trade, this ice pond ended up depending on supplying the fishing vessels that went out to the banks. The fishermen needed to salt the fish before they returned to the Boston market, so they would pick up the ice here to ice the fish down, then they would run them to Boston and still have fresh fish. That lasted until 1915. That was about the last year ice was cut at Gun Point.

The fellow who started the ice business had to buy all the property beneath the pond. Most of the owners were very willing to sell except for the Toothakers, and the only reason they weren't was because they depended on that land for their crops.

Finally the Toothakers agreed to sell the land on the condition that the water would be drained in the spring so they could still grow crops. My good friend, Jack said that the corn that grew there was the tallest corn he'd ever seen. He said his horse would get lost in the corn.

There was a boarding house on the west side of the pond, built only for workers. It took a large crew of men to cut ice in the winter and they needed a place to stay.

The first electricity came to Gun Point around 1918 to 1920.

There were other ways of making a living for the people at Gun Point around the turn of the century. People fished, shellfished, lobstered and raised sheep.

You want to know about the storm that rocked the Land's End Gift shop off its foundation. It left postcards and souvenirs floating out to sea and on the beach. That was a tremendous tide. A person from the state came and said that it was the highest tide ever come into this cove.

In those days there was the Casco Bay Directory, sort of like the present day yellow pages, that listed all the people and businesses. It broke the islands up into parts:

Bailey, Orr's and so on. It gave a small description of the town and what folks did for a living. Some of those jobs still exist. Most are gone, gone, gone!

Before the bridges in the 1920's, most people went by water to get somewhere. Some people would not even go to Brunswick and would shop in Portland because Portland was easier to get to. There was so much muck on the road in the. Spring or when it rained heavily, that it was easier to go to Portland by water.

Most people bought supplies from Prince's General Store. They passed a book around town, from house to house, and people would write their names and a list of what they needed. This was through the week, and at the end of the week that book would end up at the store again. Then through the next week they would load up everything the people wanted and deliver it by boat to the farmhouses. You would not have to go to town.