Jay Bluck, right, helped by Nate Manson, both of SubZero Ice Carvings of Topsham, carve an ice sculpture Saturday as part of Richmond’s bicentennial celebration. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — The whine of ice carving tools cut through the cold air flowing off the Kennebec River on Saturday as the chunk of ice set up in the gazebo in Waterfront Park slowly took shape.

While the audience came and went, lured away by grilling burgers, a bonfire, their own snow shaping efforts, or a chance to see the other ice sculptures on display, Jay Bluck and Nate Manson worked steadily to coax a shape from the 200-pound block of ice.

Jay Bluck of SubZero Ice Carvings of Topsham works on an ice sculpture Saturday as part of Richmond’s bicentennial celebration. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

Bluck and Manson, both of SubZero Ice Carvings, traveled from Topsham on Saturday to take part in Richmond’s bicentennial celebrations, this one celebrating the town’s ice heritage.

Friday marked the 200th anniversary of Richmond’s incorporation, and the celebration kicked off with fireworks and an alumni basketball game at Richmond High School.

Saturday, though, was given over to ice and its role in the town’s history.

“The noise, it’s like a dentist’s drill,” said Abigail Lopez, who came to the park Saturday with her husband and three children for the celebration of Richmond’s ice heritage.


“It gets you right here,” Lopez said, rubbing her chest.

The gazebo sits only yards from the Kennebec River, where for decades, workers converged at ice operations from the Augusta-Hallowell line south through Richmond to carve up chunks of ice for export all over the world.

Historian Jay Robbins indicates the location of ice houses on the Kennebec River on one of the maps he brought to the Enterprise Grange Hall as part of Saturday’s celebration of Richmond’s bicentennial. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

A newspaper clipping from the Kennebec Journal issue of Dec. 31, 1935. Ice harvesting was a big part of the economy along the Kennebec River in an around Richmond. Kennebec Journal archives

On Saturday, with large swaths of open water, no ice came from the Kennebec. Bluck, who was using an iron to smooth out the edges of his carving of the character Kenny from “South Park,” said he gets his ice from a company in Boston for the ice carvings he does year-round for festivals, concerts, weddings and corporate events.

But 150 years ago, long before refrigeration had been invented, the global demand for ice put the Kennebec River on the international map.

Just a few miles away from the waterfront, historian Jay Robbins stood in the Enterprise Grange Hall behind a table bearing maps detailing the location of ice houses on both sides of the river in  southern Kennebec and northern Sagadahoc counties.

At the peak of the ice trade in the 1890s, 45 sets of ice houses operated on the river, he said, some standing six or seven stories tall, with up to seven rooms each as big as a football field.


“At this time of year, there would be maybe 4,000 or so mostly Aroostook County men and boys (who) would come down for six or eight weeks,” Robbins said. “You knew you were going to get a crop, just like with hay.”

A Kennebec Journal news clipping from Feb. 22, 1937. Ice harvesting was a big part of the economy along the Kennebec River in an around Richmond. Kennebec Journal archives

Kennebec River ice was so desirable, Robbins said, because of the volume of water that flows in the river ice forms with few air bubbles.

But, he noted, the ice that was a friend that boosted the regional economy in the winter was also notably its enemy.

Several times in the past two centuries, Robbins said, catastrophic flooding in the Kennebec also brought destruction. During the 1936 flood, the power of the river and the broken ice it carried, twisted and sheared the bridge connecting Richmond and Dresden off its supports and washed it downstream.

The day’s festivities wrapped with an ice skating party at the town’s rink.

While the celebration kicked off on Friday, the 200th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, events are scheduled to  continue throughout the year. On June 24, the town plans a to celebrate R.B. Hall Day in honor of the musician and composer, who was also the director of the Richmond Cornet Band. And at the end of July, Richmond Days will stretch into a week and celebrate Richmond Through the Years.

Other events are also in the works, and full brochure is expected in the spring.


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