Will Wonders Never Cease

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Potter County is one of the oddest natural wonders in Pennsylvania: The Coudersport Ice Mine.  The mine is located on a hillside, shielded from the sun and wind. Ice begins to form in April and continues to build up as the weather warms. Then, starting in September, the ice begins to melt, with only a residual amount remaining during the winter months.

The Coudersport Ice Mine is actually an ice cave located in Sweden Township, Pennsylvania. Ice appears in various shapes and forms, often as huge icicles measuring from 1 to 3 feet (0.91 m) in thickness, and from 15 to 25 feet in length; the ice is generally clear and sparkling. Discovered in 1894, the cave is about 40 feet deep, about 8 feet wide, and 10 feet long. The cave was open to the public for many decades but closed in 1990. New Ownership and renovations have led to the reopening of the mine to the general public.

The discovery of the mine was not a complete accident.  A farm owner in the area, John Dodd, had heard umpteen stories about a Native American seen carrying silver ore out of a mysterious cave on a mountainside in Sweden Valley, just east of Coudersport. Dozens of prospectors had thoroughly searched the mountain and came away empty handed. So, in the summer of 1894, with curiosity finally getting the best of him, Dodd set out to give it a try.

He asked a farm-hand, Billy O’Neil, for help. He knew Billy was handy with a divining rod and immediately Billy went searching. The divining rod, Billy said, “told him” where to find the vein of silver ore. He began to dig.  On a sweltering 90-degree day, Billy’s shovel hit something hard.

Only it wasn’t silver. It was ice!  He eventually uncovered a shaft of ice, some 30 feet deep, 10 feet long and 8 feet wide. Inside, they found not only large pieces of ice, but also human remains, a petrified fish, and fossils. While the search failed to yield the much-fabled silver, it resulted in one of the most fascinating finds in Pennsylvania history.

With winter approaching, Dodd returned to the hole in the ground and was amazed to see ice melting and warm air coming from the shaft. Winter passed. Returning to the mountain in late spring, Dodd was dumbfounded to see ice reforming. As summer progressed, it seemed the hotter the weather, the thicker the ice in the shaft!

Ice in summer. Gone in winter. How does this happen?

The mountainside consists of loose rock. Air currents travel through the mountain rocks and the mine shaft. Cold air is drawn in during the winter, forcing out the warmer air, which was drawn in during summer and the ice melts. In the spring, warmer air enters the mountain forcing the colder air out and ice forms. The cycle continues.

As years went by and word of the discovery got out, the science community took notice. In the meantime, the Ice Mine was on its way to becoming a prime tourist attraction. It’s reported that scientists from the National Geographic Society arrived at the Mine in the mid-1930s. One of them dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.” Despite initial skepticism, they departed Potter County saying the Ice Mine was indeed “a modern miracle”, giving credence to the “eighth wonder” label. Today, some 80 years later, The Ice Mine’s fascination continues among scientists and scholars.

122 thoughts on “Will Wonders Never Cease

Comments are closed.