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


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

Ice Harvesting

By students of West Harpswell School

A 2001-2002 Harpswell History Project

Growing up
Living on a Farm

Ice Harvesting

Arnold LeMay was born March 18, 1917 in Harpswell, Maine. He was born in the same house that he lives in now. That house is about 235 years old and it is on the Shore Acres Road near the post office. Arnold's parents' names were Grace and Edgar. He had two brothers named Edward and Lewis and two sisters, Dora and Lillian.

Arnold and his brothers and sisters went to the Harpswell Center School, which was near the Allen Point Road next to what is now the Scout Hall. They walked two miles to school each way.

Arnold's family did ice harvesting. The family got ice from the pond that was beside their house. They started the ice business sometime during the 1880's. People needed ice to keep their food cold. There were no electric refrigerators back in those days.

The pond had to be kept clean from snow because if they let snow stay on the ice, they would have soft ice. The ice had to be at least a foot to fifteen or eighteen inches thick before it could be harvested. The ice harvesters used a board to make a straight line down the center of the pond. They used something sharp to make grooves in the ice. To get the blocks of ice they had something that tipped over to make a guide mark to the next groove. To cut the ice they used a kind of saw with teeth that were about a foot long. They were then able to use a bar on the grooves and could get blocks of ice that were even and uniform in size. The blocks were 22 inches wide and 44 inches long. The weight of the blocks was 250 to 300 pounds, depending upon the thickness of the ice.

As the ice was cut, it was pulled out of the pond by a horse. There was a rope on a wheel that was something like a clothesline pulley. The rope was attached to the horse and went to a hook that was on the ice. The horse walked along the edge of the pond and drew the ice into the special house where it was stored.

The LeMays ice house had a space between the walls of the ice house and the ice. The ice was stacked up and covered with sawdust. This method kept the ice from melting all through the summer.

It took two days to harvest the ice from the pond. During a really cold year, ice could be harvested more than once during the same year.

Ten, twelve or fourteen men were in an ice harvesting crew. Some of the Harpswell men that worked at LeMays pond were the Bibbers, Merrimans, and Chipmans. Arnold's mother was the only woman that helped. At age nine or ten Arnold started to help with the cleaning of the pond. At age fourteen or fifteen he began to help with the harvesting. It was a family chore and he didn't get paid.

Arnold liked cutting ice because it was something different to do and it was also a social time. It was sometimes dangerous because you could fall in the pond or get hit by a block of ice. Once George Allen fell in the pond and all of his clothes were frozen like ice. It was a scary time for him. He went in the LeMays house for a while and then was taken home.

The LeMays delivered ice to all parts of Harpswell Neck. People also came to the house to buy ice. The price of the ice was decided upon by the weight and by the thickness. Arnold remembers it being two cents a pound, but the price may have been different at other times.

Besides delivering ice to Harpswell homes, the LeMays also sold ice to places such as Auburn Colony, Merriconeag House, Guernsey Villa, Ocean View Hotel, and Lookout Point House.

Before there were refrigerators, people used ice boxes. Ice boxes were made out of wood and were usually lined with zinc. A big chunk of ice was put in the top part of the box. Some people wrapped their ice in newspaper to make it last longer. As the ice melted, the water would go into a pipe and then flow into a pan at the bottom of the ice box. If the ice box was in the shed, the water sometimes went into the ground.

If people didn't have an ice box, they used to keep their food cool by putting ice in a pail or bucket and lowering it into a dug well or cold stream.

In winter they put food in a box and put the box outside or in a cold room. The Will Dunning family, the Millers, and Laurence Merriman family harvested ice, but only for their own use. The Dunnings and Merrimans needed a lot of ice on their farms and the Milers for their inn. Ed Hayes Moody on Basin Point sold and delivered ice the same as the LeMays. On the other side of town a lot of ice was produced at Dingley Island.

For several years after he was married Arnold LeMay still helped with ice harvesting. The family stopped ice harvesting in the early fifties. By then most people had electric refrigerators and not much ice was needed.