Out to the Monument- On Ice, Belfast, March 1905

Charles Coombs Collection

The winter of 1905 was hard, but not as hard as the winter before. Temperatures seldom rose above 12 degrees Fahrenheit. From early February until mid March, the upper Penobscot Bay was locked in 5 inches or more of ice. Steamboat travel halted. Beginning in mid-February, newspapers reported people walking from Castine to Belfast and of an “ice bridge” to Islesboro on which teams pulled wagons and sleighs. The ice sometimes gave out: one man lost a boiler, a steam engine and his horses, the whole works breaking through the ice between Bucksport and Winterport. By March 8th, the ice had been broken out of Rockland and a week later, the steamer RELIANCE broke an ice jam at Fort Point, freeing the river to Bangor.

March 5th must have been warm enough for Charles Coombs to take his camera out to the Monument marking Belfast’s Steels Ledge. Tripod-mounted glass plate cameras were not easy to transport and set up. The ice ring on the granite shows it to be nearly low tide. The treeless fields on the north shore of Belfast Harbor are visible in the background. A pole and barrel crown the Monument (now, of course, there is a flashing red light). A week or so later, the ice was gone.

Why Out to the Monument?
Even during the “real Maine winter” we just experienced in 2015, Penobscot Bay did not come close to freezing over. It seems now a thing of the past. The photograph is proof that it did happen and that people not only persevered, but embraced much harder conditions than we do now. You can bet that those posing on the ice at the monument a mile out in Belfast Harbor were not wearing Thinsulate clothing or Gortex boots.

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