The frigid temperatures of recent days might have us wondering if we are are entering an Ice Age. While the weather has moderated (as it always does), the cold weather reminded me of a time in L-A’s history when ice was big business.

Ice harvests on Lake Auburn and on the Androscoggin River were important seasonal activities. Of course, that was before electric refrigerators replaced the visits of icemen who brought heavy blocks of ice for the large “ice chests” in most every home.

Ice tongs still hang from a spike in our woodshed. Heavy cast iron with a grip of about 15 inches, they were probably used by my grandfather to wrestle chunks of ice from the river around mid-February.

There’s also a rusty old saw hanging out there. It has teeth like a shark and a handle fixed in a T-position at one end. That four-foot-long saw would carve out many square cakes of ice every winter.

Cutting ice from a nearby river or pond was an annual necessity for most farmhouse families. I know about my grandfather’s ice cutting from entries in an old diary. Several times on the pages of a winter month, there would be entries of “going to cut ice with Pompily today.” That was the name of a neighbor, and there were frequent mentions of neighbors helping neighbors, winter or summer.

For many years, commercial ice harvesting took place on local bodies of water, until big refrigeration units diminished the demand for ice from the 1950s onward.

There had once been numerous ice houses for winter stockpiling and year-round supply of ice to local homes. There was mention of Bob’s Tackle Shop at 48 Newbury St., Auburn. That ice house was a remaining portion of the Taylor Pond Ice Company. Also listed in phone books were R. Caron & Sons, 14 Atwood St., Caron and Sons Ice. Co., Sabattus Road and Guerin & Son, 24 Birch St., Lewiston. Guerin & Son dealt primarily with crushed ice for counter showcase refrigeration in stores.

Those three companies got their ice from No Name Pond in Lewiston and Taylor Pond in Auburn.

Before 1929, most of the ice was cut on the Androscoggin River above the falls and railroad bridge, and on the Little Androscoggin above Barker Mill dam.

About 140 men and 32 horses would be involved in ice cutting activity at that time in the Twin Cities. Typically, it was steady work for the entire winter. The work of ice handling and delivery kept the horses and men busy year-round.

It was important to keep the ice cutting fields clear of snow all winter. As many as three dozen horse-drawn scrapers could be working at once on the river ice.

Joseph Fournier was named as a long-time foreman in charge of much local ice cutting. Leon Overlock was in charge of packing, and he met an unfortunate death in a fall from a ramp at the ice house at Lake Auburn.

For 40 years, Founier was a significant figure in the Twin Cities’ ice industry. Another L-A resident who played a major role in the early ice industry was James E. Philoon. A promotional write-up in 1889 described the firm of Newman, Lara & Co., of which Philoon was a member. It told of “two storage houses of the dimensions of 100 x 160 and 30 x 60 feet respectively, having a capacity of 4,500 tons.”

Before the ice business began to fade in the 1930s Taylor Pond Ice Co. carried on operations. Wiseman Farms had an ice operation on the Androscoggin with a storage house at Oakdale in Auburn. Wesley Urquart was another area resident with a considerable ice business with storage houses on outer Lake St., Auburn.

Lake Auburn Crystal Ice Company also operated through the early 1930s. Motorists on West Auburn Road near Summer Street will remember the abandoned ice house there where a Crystal Ice identification could still be read on what remained of the building.

Construction of Gulf Island Dam on the Androscoggin spelled the end of ice harvesting from the river. The dam caused fluctuations in the water flow and level, so thick ice never again consistently formed on the river.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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