Plunging temperatures and deepening snowdrifts during late winter days has brought to mind a South Gorham enterprise few people remember.

It would be hard to find anything to rival it in excitement now.

I wish I were familiar with the proper terms to describe it so that it might pass as a historical report, but all I can offer is the memory of a very young child, a girl, at that, hanging for dear life to the cold slippery seat of a large farm sled loaded with ice cakes as it left the then-expansive frozen pool downriver from the bridge over the Stroudwater River on South Street.

Will Sanborn and his experienced crew would have been cutting ice for the local farms that “raised milk.” Whether or not that is a correct grammatical term, it was used freely and understood by such farmers as the Carsons, Straws, Tapleys, Meserves, Bickfords, Sanborns, Deerings, Knights, Libbys and others in the early 1920s, who, before electricity, had to keep milk properly cold and fresh before delivery.

Jim and Charley, our team of horses, pulled the sled up the steep riverbank incline into Burnham’s field that led to the road still pitching upward to what was then called Buxton Road, where my father and I took a left turn homeward through Coalkiln Corner.

Once home, I could trudge inside to the warm kitchen, but the farm crew had to busy themselves unloading the well-cut, slippery cakes of ice and insulating them with sawdust in an icehouse in back of the milkshed behind the barn.

For the exciting ice-hauling event, I would have worn an oversize bearskin cape and my father a bearskin coat in the below-zero weather. Where the cumbersome bearskin garments originated I have no idea, but they served the purpose and we suffered no frostbite. Over our legs would have been a heavy buffalo robe.

I was too young and too excited about the expedition to understand the business end of the project, but, looking back, realize that cutting ice on the Stroudwater, had to have been some kind of cooperative process among neighbors.

My role as an observer was far from a comfortable one, but exciting enough to look forward to the next episode, due to take place within a few days on a pond created in the rural bounds of Westbrook by a landslide on the lower Stroudwater, toward Portland.

There was to be another cooperative effort to finish filling the icehouses of the Chapmans, Knights, McKenneys, Fergusons and others.

Yes, I could go, not only as an observer, but I could take a pail and bring home a pet frog, still in some developmental tadpole stage to feed and care for, for the rest of the shortening winter.

Later in the spring, I would release it back into the pond with the help of my grandfather some morning when we delivered our cold milk, still cooperatively with our local neighbors and still by Jim and Charlie, to the Turner Center Creamery, now Hoods, in Portland.

Frances Knight Marsh, a longtime resident of Gorham, grew up on Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook.


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