176 Ice Mine Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915.
About 7 km east of Coudersport, Potter County. From Coudersport Highway 6 East, after 6 km turn right on Highway PA-44 Cherry Springs Road, after 300 m right onto Ice Mine Road, after 200 m turn right to stay on Ice Mine Road, after 200 m turn left.
Memorial Day to Labor Day Wed-Sun 10-18.
Adults USD 5, Children (5-12) USD 2.50, Children (0-4) free.
|Classification:||Silver Mine ice cave.|
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
|Dimension:||W=3 m wide, L=3.6 m, VR=7.6 m.|
|Guided tours:||self guided|
Inez Bull (1987):
Cross Fork Tales
Potter County Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin # 83 January 1987.
Edwin Swift Balch (1921): The Coudersport Ice Mine, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 60, No. 4 (1921), pp. 553-559.
Frances X. Scully (1987): Pennsylvania’s Ice Mine And the Lost Silver, Potter County Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin # 83 January 1987. online
M.E. Bryant (1987): The Coudersport, PA Ice Mine, Potter County Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin # 83 January 1987. online
Kevin Patrick (2004): Pennsylvania Caves & other rocky roadside wonders, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa, USA, 248 pp, illus. p 201-207
Marlin O. Andrews (1913): The Sweden Valley Ice Mine And Its Explanation, The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXXII, January To June 1913, New York, The Science Press, pp 280-288. online.
Thomas Shear (): The Wonderful Ice Mine, Publisher: The Coudersport Ice Mine, Coudersport, PA, 25 pp.
|Address:||Coudersport Ice Mine, 176 Ice Mine Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915, Tel: +1-814-274-9900.|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1894||shaft sunk by John Dodd and William O’Neil in search for silver.|
|1899||a small hut erected over the mine entrance by John Dodd which disturbed the cold trap mechanism. The hut was removed and the effect reappeared.|
|1915||Prof M L Kelly visits the Ice Mine. Likes it and buys it! He increases the admission fee from 10c to 50c, a price that was maintained until 1965.|
|1921||sold to William A Shear.|
|1921||visited by Edwin Swift Balch author of Glacieres or Freezing Caverns (1900).|
|1987||William A Shear died and the mine was sold to Ernie Mosch and closed.|
|2013||purchased by Gary and Diana Buchsen and renovated.|
|22-MAY-2014||reopened to the public.|
Coudersport Ice Mine is a pit or shaft, which shows a quite exceptional example of a cold trap, also called Glacière, a French name which became the english scientific term in the late 19th century. The cold air in winter is heavier than the warmer air in the pit, so it falls into the pit and cools it down. But it is trapped, as the only opening it upwards. In summer the outside air is warm, but the heavier cold air in the pit is unable to leave it. But there are numerous details which are quite strange and caused confusion among normal visitors and curiosity among visiting scientists.
The story begins with a local legend, the natives living here were said to know the locations of deposits of silver and lead. They carefully guarded them against discovery by other bands of Indians and by the few white settlers in the area. When one white hunter accidentally discovered one of their lead mines, they killed him. But the increasing number of white settlers caused the eviction of the natives to reservations in the west, and they took the secret of the mines with them. The still handed down the knowledge from one generation to another. When they were accepted as citizens and were able to leave the reservation they came in small groups of five or six and searched the country thoroughly, but without success. The country had been changed by civilization, and they were not able to follow the directions of their legends, they finally abandoned the undertaking.
If any of this actually happened is unclear, but according to local lore this was the reason why locals became curious and also started to search for ores. Probably the Indians were looking for cultural remains, but the locals were suspicious and greedy, and inferred from themselves to others. So their logical conclusion were valuable ores.
There was another mysterious event, in 1894 or 1895, a Seneca Nation Indian from the nearby Cattauragus Reservation came to Coudersport, got a lunch and walked off into the woods. When he returned, he presented some fine specimens of silver ore to the amazed loungers who gathered around him. He took a red bandanna handkerchief from his pocket, untied the corners, and revealed several pieces of fine silver ore, perhaps four or five pounds. He showed his find to the flabbergasted whites who crowded around him. But the stoic warrior answered all questions with a shake of his head. Then he picked up his prize, left the store, vanished and was never seen again.
This was either an urban legend, or it was a joke by the Indians, but it spread like a virus among the locals, they definitely fell for it. Frances X. Scully guessed in his article from 1987, that it was a deliberate joke by the Seneca. But let's continue with the legend.
As a result of the rumours and stories, John Dodd and William O’Neil were prospecting for valuable ores in the area. At one place they removed about 15 cm of moss and discovered a thin layer of ice. Its unclear why they continued, unlikely they mixed up ice with silver ore, but later there were more legends. One said they actually discovered ore, or at least a mysterious rock they thought were ore, another says they had found the location using a dowsing rod. They leveled a space about 6 m by 6 m, and then they dug a shaft 1.8 m by 1.8 m wide and 3.6 m deep. At a depth of 2.7 m they found petrified wood, fossilized leaves, ferns and other vegetation, and bones which they thought were human. They continued to a depth of 3.6 m where they found a mysterious rock, but it was analyzed and found to be of no value. They also registered an opening from which a cold draught came, but did not investigate further. When John Dodd returned in the following spring the shaft contained a considerable amount of ice. But when the weather became warmer, the ice did not melt, the amount of ice increased and by the middle of July the sides of the shaft were covered with a coating of ice 30 cm thick. Large icicles were forming from the opening at the top. And when winter came, the ice began to disappear until the cave was nearly free from ice. This strange behaviour happened every year.
The mine was called Sweden Valley Ice Mine, after Sweden Valley where it is located and the joke, that they found an ice mine instead of a silver mine. John Dodd was the owner of the land, and he erected a wooden building on top of the mine shaft. But he left the roof, directly over the shaft, open to allow the rays of the sun to beat in upon the ice formation. There is also a version that a small hut erected over the mine entrance disturbed the cold trap mechanism. The roof of the hut was removed and the effect reappeared. Why he actually built the hut remains unclear. The mine was first used to store meat and probably to mine small amounts of ice for personal consumption. It was of no economic importance, there was not enough ice to sell it and actually the refrigerator was already invented and made ice cellars obsolete. There was also no actual research of the site, except for an experiment by Mr. Dodd, who placed two sticks of dynamite about 2.5 m in a crevice. The explosion did not turn a stone or dislodge any earth in the shaft. He thought there was a natural cave underneath the mine large enough to absorb the shock of the explosion.
There are numerous legends about the site, the silver which does not exist, the mining attempt, even the story with hut built on top of the entrance to support the theory that some magic transforms sunlight into ice. Unfortunately there is no publication available which gives a scientific explanation and exposes all the tall tales. William Shear, the grandson of William A Shear, called the story "bogus "silver prospector" story my Granddad cooked up". And while the story was definitely not invented by Shear, as it was already published by Marlin O. Andrews in 1913, it's nevertheless mostly fictitious. We guess the above stories are at least 80 % fiction, and have no idea what's fiction and what's fact. The following history seems to be much more reliable though.
John Dodd started to show the ice mine to visitors in the early 20th century. The number of visitors increased, and there were some scientists visiting the mine and publishing papers. In 1915 Prof M L Kelly visited the Ice Mine. He liked it so much that he made an offer and purchased itm, transformed the site into a tourist venue and increased the admission fee from 10c to 50c, a price that was maintained until 1965. But only six years later, in 1921, the mine was sold to William A Shear. He managed the site for half a century to his death in 1987. Finally, it was closed to "age, illness and dwindling receipts". It seems it was closed the year he died, then sold and not reopened by the new owner. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find out about closed sites, and so many webpages still existed about the site, some even stating it was open. The information was not wrong, just outdated and no way to update it. When we created this page it was actually closed for a decade, but we kept the page for two reasons, first we were able to provide visitors with the information that it was actually closed, and second, it is such an extraordinary site.
It took more than 25 years until the site was finally reopened. Gary and Diana Buchsen purchased the site in 2013 and started to renovate it, as close to its former appearance as possible. It was a lot of work, as the site was abandoned for so long, but now it looks even better than 25 years ago. Unfortunately they do not provide information about the site, they only have a facebook page, which is quite sad.
The whole hill is called Ice Mountain, supposedly named so during the 19th century. There are piles of debris at the foot of the plateau, which obviously has numerous cracks, some might call them caves, although as far es we know there has never been a thorough exploration. Most likely they are too narrow to explore. But it seems the cold air enters the cracks on the hillside on various places, filling all the cracks and cooling them while circulating through the cracks to the lower end. Its mentioned that the native Indians used such cracks to cool food. The same was later done by the white settlers, and there are actually numerous such sites in the area, which offer such a cold trap situation. The other sites are less spectacular though. Sometimes they were opened artificially to create natural refrigerators, and huts were built on top to keep the cold air inside and the fauna outside. This theory is quite straight forward, and was actually published by Marlin O. Andrews in 1913.
One thing about the cold trap effect was very strange for the visitors: the cave has little ice in the spring, but in summer the ice grows. This seems rather strange, and is different to most other natural ice caves. But the explanation is quite simple: the cave is always cold enough to freeze water, but if there is no water no ice forms. During winter all the water is frozen, the cracks in the rock are sealed by the ice, there is no dripping water which enters the shaft. When the temperature rises slowly during summer, the ice in the cracks close to the surface melts and dripping water enters the shaft where it freezes. The amount of ice depends on the water in the shaft.
In other words, there is a good chance that the "mine" is actually a cave which was opened artificially to use it as a refrigerator, which it was for some time. And there was so much cave guide lore that its actually impossible to keep fact and fiction apart. And sadly, there seems to never have been actually a scientific exploration of the site. Most texts only repeat the legends, without determining their origin and truth. At least it is accessible again, let's hope there will be a good description of the site available in another 25 years.