2017-12-02 / Front Page

Millions of eyes on Ice Mine

A program on the Coudersport Ice Mine is going to be beamed into millions of television households at 10 pm Saturday, Dec. 2.

The Science Channel, available locally on Zito Media channel 102, will carry a segment on the local phenomenon as part of its “Secrets of the Underground” program. Science Channel is seen in about 77 million homes. Biologist Rob Nelson and geophysicist Stefan Burns were in Potter County this year to study the tourist attraction using modern technological tools. In a promotion for Saturday’s program, the Science Channel said it aims to “get to the bottom of a strange phenomenon that has baffled scientists for decades -- the paradox of an ice-covered cave that freezes in the summer and melts in the winter.” The Ice Mine also the subject of ongoing research by Hank Edenborn from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, who has been monitoring the temperature sensors at the bottom of the shaft for more than two years.

Gary and Diana Buchsen bought the Ice Mine property from E. O. Mosch Jr. and restored it to its former glory after many years of neglect. The attraction reopened in 2014.

For the better part of a century, researchers and curiosity seekers flocked to what was once known as Ice Mountain in Sweden Valley during the summer to peer into the ice-covered rectangular shaft, breathe the cold air, feel the frigid moss-covered walls and marvel at how such a place could exist in a 90-degree-plus climate.

The ice does not form until the chill of winter has left the region. Its accumulation increases rapidly during a 10- to 12-week period of spring and early summer. Then, as cooler air begins to pervade the Allegheny Mountains portending autumn and winter, the ice begins to thaw.

Over winter, the four sides of the ice mine are a soft mix of mud and slush, while the ground is frozen solid all around it.

The Ice Mine is much more than a tourist attraction. It was studied for decades by scientists, including a National Geographic Society team that arrived in 1935 to unravel its secrets. John Oliver La Gorce, the society’s vice president, concluded that the Ice Mine is a “modern miracle.”

Among other prominent visitors were glacial expert Edwin Swift Balch and Arctic explorer and scientist Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

They found an ice belt measuring 40 rods by 20 rods on the mountainside. A unique combination of the mountain’s natural rock formations and meteorological conditions result in a “thermal inversion,” the scientists determined. Cold air becomes trapped by the humidity about it and the sun’s rays are unable to penetrate the natural shield.

In the winter, air patterns shift and the heavier cold air traps the warm air within the rock formations, so the ice melts.

According to early newspaper accounts, property owner John Dodd had taken a special interest in trying to determine the source of pure silver ore that Native Americans could be seen carrying down from the mountains in the 1890s.

Dodd hired prospector Billy O’Neil to search for the ore. Instead, he discovered the ice deposits. As public interest rose, Dodd built a small boardwalk to the mine and erected a tent around it. He charged visitors 10 cents to see it. In the early 1920s, Coudersport justice of the peace William Shear acquired the property. The Shear family capitalized on the Ice Mine’s location near U.S. Route 6, appealing to motorists and marketing the attraction tirelessly and effectively.

One of William Shear’s sons, Thomas, beautified the grounds by planting dozens of colorful tuberous begonias. He and his wife, Maxine, greeted tourists and put local youths to work as tour guides and hired hands at the Ice Mine and its accompanying gift shop.

Ernest O. Mosch Jr. purchased the property in 1986 and operated it for several years. Health problems and a fall-off in the number of tourists forced Mosch to close the attraction in the mid-1990s.

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