The ‘Coolest’ Place in the Pennsylvania Wilds: The Coudersport Ice Mine
In his lifetime, Potter County farmer and landowner 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.
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.
Back at the farm, Dodd was not amused.
However, 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.
Its 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, 80 years later, The Ice Mine’s fascination continues among scientists and scholars.
“The State Department of Energy has probes and monitors the mine temperature year-round with graphs showing the temperature change from one season to the next.” said Diana Buchsen, who, with husband Gary, bought the Ice Mine in 2014. “There is always air movement in the shaft and the coolness can be felt even before entering the viewing area,” Diane said, noting that a jacket comes in handy even on the hottest days.
The Buchsens have beautifully restored the Mine viewing house, gift shop and the entire grounds. They now own and operate it after the previous owner closed the Mine in 1987. Sadly, it sat dormant and neglected for more than 25 years.
Since the Buchsens came to the rescue four years ago, the Mine has received much publicity. “Two years ago, Pennsylvania Public Television, along with Mansfield University arrived and filmed a program,” said Diana. “This past year, the Science Channel, with a fourteen-member team consisting of geologists and physicists from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a three-day field study, which aired last November.” Diana said visitors will get to see that video when the Mine opens in May. “This is new for 2018, and we believe visitors will find it most interesting.”
The Mine’s location is quite visitor-friendly with plenty of nearby food, family fun and fine accommodations. “We have the Sweden Valley Inn and Fezz’s Diner,” said Diana. “In Coudersport, Kaytee’s restaurant has good food. For lodging, Millstream Inn is a great place to stay. Also, Frosty Hollow B&B has gotten wonderful reviews and Gary’s Miniature Golf is a popular fun spot and just a short distance from the Ice Mine.”
Campers will find many State Parks nearby, such as Cherry Springs, Lyman Run, Patterson, Sinnemahoning, Denton Hill, Ole Bull, Susquehannock and Prouty Place.
Located at 176 Ice Mine Road, Coudersport, the Ice Mine is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Hours are 10am to 6pm Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 6-12. Children five and under are free. For more information phone 814-274-9900. You can also find the Ice Mine on Facebook.
“The Ice Mine is one of the most unique attractions in Pennsylvania with nearly 10,000 visitors per season,” Diana said. “We are a pet friendly, family-oriented business and we welcome all visitors!”
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With deep Potter County roots, Ed Byers heard all the stories and Ice Mine theories having spent his boyhood summers at his grandfather’s cottage on Ice Mine Road. A former radio and TV newscaster, newspaper writer and corporate communications/media relations manager, Byers is past President of the Associated Press Radio- TV Broadcasters Association and The Press Club of Cleveland. He is retired and lives in the nearby Allegheny National Forest.