The Maine Ice Harvest of 1879

From the 1880 U.S. Census report on the ice harvest in Maine
during the winter of 1879-80: “Every idle workman along the
Kennebec River was employed and put to work. Shipyards and sawmills
were applied to for sawdust to pack the ice; the demand was so
large and the supply so inadequate that the sites of old sawmills
were hunted up in order to dig out sawdust several years old. The
price rose to $3 per cord. Marsh hay, also used for packing, rose
from $5 per ton to $10.

“The river was a scene of remarkable animation. The dealers
foresaw fortunes, and they pushed operations with the utmost
energy. The portions of the river where cutting was done were
covered with an army of 4,000 men and 350 horses, and work was
prosecuted day and night. At Boothbay, a few miles from the
Kennebec, and at other places, the houses were filled to the roof
plates, and thousands of tons were then stacked in the open air
upon the ground for transport to schooners for immediate dispatch
to market. Similar scenes were enacted on the Penobscot, near
Bangor and Brewer.

“When the harvest had ended, a total of about 1,300,000 tons of
ice had been gathered in Maine. On the Penobscot, this was the
first year in which ice had been cut in any large quantity. For 15
years there had been no such business excitement in Maine. The
profits of the year gave a great stimulus both to the ice business
of Maine and the shipbuilding industry.”

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