Modern refrigeration all but obliterated the ice-harvesting industry, but a slice of that piece of New England history survives just a short drive from the Newcastle Inn.
The Thompson Ice House is a working museum that demonstrates the traditional methods of ice harvesting. The ice house, which is along Route 29 in South Bristol, still stores naturally frozen ice from a nearby pond and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The ice house is a vestige of a once-important New England industry – providing ice and natural refrigeration to East Coast cities, the American South, the West Indies and even India. You can learn more about the ice industry in this article from Design New England. Today, local hunters and sailors still use ice from the Thompson Ice House.
According to the book “Maine’s Museums: Art, Oddities andArtifacts,” by Janet Mendelsohn, the ice house was founded by Asa Thompson in 1826 and remained in the Thompson family for 159 years. It was last owned by the late Herbert Thompson, who encouraged the community to preserve the ice house’s heritage.
The ice house business closed in 1985, but reopened in 1990 as a museum and is overseen by the Thompson Ice House Preservation Corporation. Once a year, on Presidents Day weekend, the ice house invites the community to help with the ice harvest. Locals and visitors of all ages use antique tools to move the blocks along a narrow channel in the ice, up a wood ramp and into the ice house.
It also holds a community ice cream social in July using old-fashioned ice-cream-making methods and the harvested ice. This year the ice cream social is scheduled for July 6.
The museum is open 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during July and August or by appointment. The site is always available.