Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Iceman Cometh: Ice Harvesting on Fields Pond

On Sunday, January 28, 2018, 10AM-3PM, Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond, 372 Fields Pond Rd., Orrington will have its Family Ice Harvest on Fields Pond. Brewer Historical Society will be sharing some local ice harvesting history at this event in the Curran farmhouse as well. Those who wish to help in the event’s preparation should be at the Curran Village on Saturday, 10AM-1PM. The event has been an annual opportunity for individuals and families to step back in time and experience first-hand participation in the seasonal practice of taking in a “crop” of ice with authentic ice harvesting tools for the last eight winters. This free, public event will also include rides on an authentic bob sleigh drawn by John Boyce of Lee, Maine’s team of Belgian draft horses, Amos and Andy ($5 per ride). We will have our first souvenir ice delivery card available solely to volunteers and participants out on the ice; the ice delivery card of the past hung in a window of your home in the age of ice delivery to indicate to the delivery man how much ice you wanted carried into your home for the family ice box. This is suitable for framing as it was printed by our letterpress printing instructor Mark Matteau of Dunstan Press, Scarborough, for our February 24-25 offering of a letterpress printing class at our Newfield campus.

New this year will be a demonstration of a horse team hooked up to an ice groove that will cut a grid into the surface of the ice as was done in the past. There will be blacksmithing at the smithy and chili and corn chowder cooking on the wood stove in the farmhouse for purchase. Bring your snowshoes, if you like, as there is plenty of wide open space and woods to roam. For more information, call (207) 205-4849 or (207) 745-4426, or visit our website: or our Facebook page.

Much of traditional ice harvesting was done with hand tools but horses were fitted with horseshoe calks to allow them to grip the ice surface for travel. Horses removed snow from the ice surface with a pulled scraper. They also pulled an ice groove (Looks like a multi-blade plow). The ice groove cut into the ice to the depth of seven-inch. Ice workers would subsequently saw by hand the remainder of the ice depth, which might be as much as 15-20 or more inches depending on how cold it had been. There could be two or three harvests in a winter. Horses were sometimes fitted with a knotted harness around their necks which would be pulled by the handler temporarily cutting off air to the horse’s lungs and preventing water from entering if they fell through the ice. This prevented the horse from drowning until it could be pulled from the freezing water; sometimes horses did drown.

Both the small farmer and commercial concerns like the Hanscoms of Orrington and Getchells of Brewer, the latter still produces and retails artificial ice, had crews on both fresh water lakes, ponds and rivers. The Penobscot and the Kennebec were two of the leading sources of natural ice in the northeast in addition to New York’s Hudson River. Ice harvesting was among the top five industries in Maine at one time. The Hanscoms continued to take in crops of ice from Fields Pond until the 1940s. Clarence Dyer of Brewer remembers harvesting ice for the Hanscoms on Fields Pond during the winter of 1941-1942. When Dyer returned from his service in the South Pacific the Hanscom’s were no longer cutting ice from the pond and taking it by horse team up Wiswell Road to an ice house storage building at the top of Copeland Hill in Orrington. The Currans also took in crops of ice for their dairy as they sold butter and other products requiring refrigeration. "We hope to one day restore the ice house building on the Curran property so that we might store the ice we take in each year. We do have an ice box in the Curran farmhouse kitchen that we fill with an ice cake as the climax to this annual event. Our goal is to have the ability to use that ice box year-round using our harvested ice as a teaching tool, and dreams like this could become a reality with sponsorship," said Robert Schmick, Curran's museum director.

Curran received a 2017 Narragansett Number One Foundation grant to build an ice house at its Newfield campus as it has an ice harvest on the Mill Pond there a week after this Fields Pond event. The ice house will be constructed this winter, and it will serve as  storage for  the ice harvested this year for year-round hands on learning experiences especially for young visitors. Bill Wilkins of Charleston, a Curran board member, donated an antique, insulated ice house door recently, and Fred Kircheis of Carmel donated a dozen cork panels from a former ice house from Bucksport for its construction.

Each year the Curran cuts a hole into Fields Pond not far from the water’s edge. Although it usually does this harvest at the end of January or the beginning of February the ice conditions are unpredictable. There were years with good crops and bad crops both past and present. Some years there are 20 inches of clear ice while others, including last year, have variations in the quality of the cakes cut. There were layers of cloudy ice and clear ice reflecting thaws, cold spells, and snowfall. Commercial ice harvesters didn’t wait until the day before the harvest to clear snow from their harvest site; they would keep it clear throughout the winter to improve the quality of the ice; snow insolates the ice surface making for a poorer quality crop. Removing the snow makes for better freezing conditions.

Once a hole is cut into the ice surface at a juncture in the grid that was cut with an ice groove, an ice saw was inserted, and the harvester would saw away from the hole following the straight lines of the grid. Three sides of each square cake were sawn, and the fourth side would be broken off with a tool called a breaker bar. The cake would now bob in the frozen water and be steered with an ice pike to a point where it could be lifted and dragged onto the ice surface where a ramp was extended to a sled or wagon, or, in later years, even a Model T truck, as we have a photo of one being loaded up on Fields Pond in the 1930s. A wooden tripod with a block and tackle hanging from it were often used by the small farmer to take the ice from the pond and get it onto a wagon or sleigh. In contrast, large commercial operations might bring the ice though cut channels of open water to a conveyor system at the water’s edge that carried it into a huge ice house like those found on the Brewer and Bangor sides of the Penobscot at one time.

These ice houses were of enormous dimensions. An ice house that existed in Utica, New York covered many acres and was of such height that clouds formed within it from the evaporating ice cakes; it would rain occasionally within its confines. At the Curran Homestead Village, some of the harvested ice will be loaded onto a primitive log scoot pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor fitted with an example of aftermarket post-World War II caterpillar tracks. The tracks and the homemade scoot were once used both in the winter and warm weather by the late Tom Flagg of Lincolnville to pull pulp logs out of the woods. Some of our crop will be pulled up the hill to the Curran farmhouse and used for the ice box. See you there! Curran Homestead Village is 501c3 nonprofit museum serving communities in Maine and beyond.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

February 2018 Classes at Newfield Poster

February, 2018 Classes at Newfield: Sign Up Now!

Sat. & Sun, Feb. 3 & 4, 9-4, Knife Making Class at Curran Homestead Village at Newfield. We're back with our popular Knife Making Classes with Frank Vivier. Make your first knife and start on the road to mastering this craft in a weekend. This is both an opportunity for beginners and intermediate level knife makers. Using propane or coal fired forges (your preference), we will cut and shape a blade and tang from spring steel. Students will use a combination of hand and power tools. We will oil quench and oven temper knives. Create hardwood handle scales and brass rivets. Students will epoxy their handles to their finished blades by the end of the class. All materials and tools provided. Tuition: $225. Pay to register, Discount for returning students. Pay to register, first come, first serve. Limited to 5. Call: (207) 205-4849,Visit:

Sat. & Sun., Feb. 3 & 4, 9AM-3PM, Beginner's Bookbinding Class. 12 hours total. At Curran Homestead Village at NEWFIELD, Red Barn Building, 70 Elm Street, Newfield, Maine. $150 Tuition, Material and tools provided. Purchase a bookbinder’s kit for an additional $30 or use our tools. Work with professional book artist, conservator, archivist, and librarian Anastasia Weigle and learn to build two classic bindings. Day One: Learn to build a classic German Case Bradel Binding with signature stitches. This beautiful book is suitable for a slim collection of poems. Day Two: Learn to build a drum-leaf binding, a book specifically designed for artists, printer, and photographers. This book opens up completely flat without a break in the gutter allowing you to display an image across two pages. The initiated will review and refine skills to gain confidence in one of the standard bookbinding constructions. Class limited to 6. Pay to Register. We can send you a Gift Certificate! (207) 205-4849, Email:

Sat. & Sun., February 24 & 25, 9AM-3PM. Letterpress Printing Class at 19th Century Curran Homestead Village at Newfield, 70 Elm Street, Newfield. 12 hrs. Learn from a working, professional letterpress printer Mark Matteau of the Dunstan Press, Scarborough in our museum's circa 1890s letterpress printing shop (William Cram's Printing Shop). Learn to compose a chase of lead type using traditional methods. You will ink your press and make printings on a foot treadle or hand printing press. You will complete a number of projects that you can walk away with and share during this two days. This is a good complement to our Bookbinding Class offered on Feb. 3 & 4, and those who choose both with be given a twenty dollar discount. Opportunities for use of our printing shop during the regular season if you wish to grow as a printer. Limited to 5 students ( Ages 11 - Adult). Tuition: $125 Call to register, first come, first serve. Call: (207) 205-4849,Visit:


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

North Castine Post Office Comes To Our Fields Pond Campus

"...Frank and Loweena's [Devereux]"  North Castine Post Office in background at left about 1929 or 1930. Russell Devereux in foreground with bib overalls sitting on wooden wagon with an "ALA" badge on the back ( "Automobile League of America" ?). Russell Devereux was born 1919, so he may be about ten or eleven in this photo.The "unknown" girl eating from her lap is sitting on a pedal car that someone has built a wooden truck bed onto....maybe young Russell Devereux. Notice marshmallows on a stick displayed atop the wooden bottle crate. In background see "Devereux Auto Rest---Free Camping Ground." From left:  L.R. Leola, Arlene Perkins, "Ma Leach", Girl (unknown), Laura Devereux (in hat), Margaret Grindle, and Russell Devereux.

The Post Office has changed radically through the years. This roof configuration is particularly different. The exterior may have had shingles rather than clapboard at this point---difficult to determine from photo. The front is different from the photo below which was likely taken in the 1950s. at this point there was a shingle exterior and an entrance on that looks like the side of the building rather than one of the gable ends as seen in the earlier photo. The door in this later photo looks like the door found at the back of the current structure. These are the children of Russell Devereux: Audrey Devereux Peasley, Charles Devereux and Andrea Devereux Doyle. (Thank you to Berwyn Peasley for supplying these photos).

In reconstructing the structure we will likely shingle over the clapboard sheathing recreating an earlier look, and replicate the fenestration seen in the gable end entrance of circa 1930. We have the sign seen in the 1950s photo but once again given the quality of the 1930 photo it is difficult to determine whether this was the original sign.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rural Maine Medicine, 1850s

This is Dr. George A. Wheeler, MD of Castine. Yesterday, I came across a real find at an area antique shop----a cardboard box of documents connected to the life of Dr. George A. Wheeler which included his diplomas and credentials as well as some photos. Wheeler served as a military doctor during the Civil War. This is from a group photo taken at Wheeler's Alma mater Bowdoin College in the 1880s; in fact, I know this familiar doorway. Wheeler was a graduate of Bowdoin in 1859, and I have his real sheepskin in Latin before me as well as many other original documents ---some in period frames that they desperately need to be rescued from. As some might recall Dr. Isaac Trafton of Newfield was also a graduate of Bowdoin, or what was part of Bowdoin, and also known as the Maine School of Medicine, back in the 1850s; Trafton graduated circa 1853 before building the house in 1856 that is part of the museum. Willowbrook gifted his Bowdoin medical diploma to the Historical Society of Newfield, ME last year but the Curran Homestead Village still has the fine collection that comprises the Doctor's Office Exhibit in the Trafton House ( FYI Trafton was a country doctor and had no formal "doctor's office" ; his office was likely confined to a satchel that he carried in his horse carriage in 1850s Newfield and Limerick). Dr. Wheeler's more complete collection of credentials will be a fine substitute to the Trafton documentation for the purposes of our ongoing exhibit of 19th century medicine in rural Maine and New England, which is one of many hands-on learning experiences for school field trips and general visitors alike at Curran Homestead Village at Newfield. As I do research on Dr. Wheeler I will share it with you.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Silent Movies at Willowbrook and Now at Curran Homestead Village

In 2014, 19th Century Willowbrook Village received a Maine Humanities Council Infrastructure Grant that partially funded the development of a mobile silent movie palace. This "palace" consisted of an enclosure in the shape of the museum's early motion picture projector which once belonged to Saco, Maine resident Ivory Fenderson ( who also was the original owner of the museum's 1894 Herschell-Armitage Steam Riding Gallery, or what is better known more as the "Willowbrook horse carousel". Fenderson, in partnership with "Haley",also travelled with an early movie projector, which included hand colored slides as well as cellulose film, setting it up at halls and auditoriums for public viewings at between "10 and 15 cents" a show at the turn of the twentieth century.  Accompanying his presentation of "Moving Pictures" was a "Home Grand Graphophone", which is also in the Curran Homestead Village collection gifted by Willowbrook, and it was this early phonograph that plays wax cylinder records that "perfectly" reproduced the human voice and duplicated instrumental music "with perfect fidelity, tone, and brilliancy", according to Fenderson's own promotional material. Curran has quite a large collection of these wax cylinders that were largely produced by Edison; we have a collection of early shellac disc records dating from the first decade of the twentieth century as well also produced by Edison.

 In addition, the "palace" created with assistance of the Maine Humanities Council includes a larger enclosure consisting of 4' x 24" x 36" plywood box constructions that have been painted with an ancient Byzantine tile motif. When stacked in a large rectangle, seating is arranged within for movie viewing. This is a cozy theater experience with a wood and canvas viewing screen. The palace has been set up at various locations around the Newfield campus including the Amos Straw ballroom above the Country Store. The desired effect of the construction is to re-create movie viewing from another time especially for our younger visitor; we also have a pop corn machine reminiscent if the time that some may have enjoyed the product of at this year's Bluegrass Festival at Fields Pond. Visitors at Newfield's movie festivals have also experienced live piano accompaniment through the contributions of Dr. Peter Stickney who lives adjacent to the museum and serendipitously took a graduate music course that explored composing musical scores for silent movies. The music is largely impromptu and amazingly fitting for each of the movies; kudos to Peter for tackling with mastery even some of the very long features like Douglas Fairbanks in one my favorites---The Thief of Baghdad.

The idea for the silent movie theater at the museum was originally inspired by a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, New York and the exhibition of Red Groom's 1920s Egyptian Revival Silent Movie Palace on temporary constructed within that museum briefly in the early 2000s. In 2012, as Executive Director of the Town of Warwick, NY Historical Society, and in partnership with the Neversink History Museum, that is located in upstate New York on the site of some early D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and other silent movie pioneers' early productions before Hollywood was born , Orange County, NY's first silent movie festival was born with a selection of silent movies, commentary and piano accompaniment. This inspired the realization of the more elaborate experience of a festival at Newfield, Maine in 2014.

Much appreciation goes to women from the Alfred Corrections Department who assisted in the painting of the tile mosaic motif on the "palace" walls over many weeks. Curran plans to set up the silent movie palace in Orrington during the summer of 2018 and include some period theater seating recently donated by board member Irv Marsters, which came from the holdings of Burr Printing which he recently acquired and donated many of its furnishing and equipment from to the Curran. Much of the early letterpress printing equipment will be the core of a letterpress printing shop at Orrington eventually. Letterpress printer Dennis Watson and Burr Printing continues on at the Bangor Letter Shop at the Penobscot Plaza on Washington Street in Bangor but the business was for many years located on Central Street in Bangor. No one is sure where the seating came from but we would like to think that it's no coincidence that it came from the same site razed during the Fire of 1911 where once stood Bangor's own "White Way" of movie theaters and vaudeville houses including the once well known Norombega Hall, which contained the Gaiety vaudeville house, and the Nickel, the city's first movie theater; maybe the seats from these establishments survived, and we can continue to experience silent movies in them as early Bangor residents once had!

Peter Stickney plays musical accompaniment to Stan Laurel's Blood and Sand:

Creation of the silent movie palace with Byzantine tile motif in progress.
Detail of Byzantine tile motif; early movie palaces often used ancient motifs from Roman, Moorish, or other civilizations to transport the audience to another place. These palaces were often constructed of plaster and wood rather than stone and mortar of actual history; these were among our first virtual realities in America.
This is the enclosure representing the original Fenderson projector and serving as place where a modern LED projector is hidden from view. The movies are all digitized versions but we may attempt to show a few shorts on regular film. We are always looking for Super 8MM and 16 MM copies of early films to be donated.
The first Orange County Silent Movie Festival at the Warwick Historical Society in 2012.
A silent movie festival at Warwick Historical Society with piano accompaniment in 2012.

This is the silent movie projector once owned and operated by Ivory Fenderson.

Cider Making at Newfield

Our reliable apple cider mill at Curran Homestead Village at Newfield. We
made 12 gallons of cider on October 14th for our open museum day.