The Maine Ice Harvest of 1879

'The river was a scene of remarkable animation'

| February 2009

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."