Denison Crystal Ice Co, in the early days




Herald Democrat

Before the day of refrigeration ice men were regular visitors to most Denison houses, and guess who was responsible for establishing the first ice factory in town in 1876. The answer is none other than Pat Tobin, the Katy engineer who brought the first Katy train into Denison.

It was a work train that arrived on Dec. 24, 1872, to test the strength of the newly placed rails, preparatory to the first regular train coming in on Christmas Day, 1872.

Tobin again piloted a Katy engine into Denison in 1932 as the city celebrated its 60th anniversary. This time when Tobin piloted the Texas Special into town on a Christmas morning, he was 85 years old, but still a lively gentleman.

In 1872 when the train arrived it was unexpected and only a few people gathered at the depot on Christmas Eve. Even fewer were there on Christmas Day when the first passenger train made its entrance. But this wasn't the case in 1932. About 500 gathered to greet the train and Tobin. Among the city dignitaries on that cold winter day were A. H. Coffin, who had laid out the town and Dr. Alexander W. Acheson, Denison's first physician.

Tobin had quit railroading to enter the ice manufacturing business and established a number of plants in Oklahoma and Texas, including the Crystal Ice Co., at the northeast corner of Houston Avenue and East Woodard Street. The plant had the ice making capacity of 100 tons daily.

The adjoining cold storage plant, with its two million cubic feet of storage space, was one of the largest in the country and larger than those in most cities the size of Denison

Tobin was the patentee of a re-icing car, the first refrigerator car on the railroads in the Southwest. The Katy used the cars at Denison and Parsons for many years.

While refrigerated cars took the beef back and forth to and from Parsons, it was horse drawn ice wagons that delivered the blocks of ice to Denison residents. As the age of automation developed, more horsepower was added in the form of motor vehicles making their daily rounds of the city.

Tobin was the active manager of the Crystal Ice House for many years, even after the plant was acquired by Southern Ice Co. Crystal Ice was first purchased by the Community Ice Co., that later acquired the Southern Ice.

Southern Ice filled railroad boxcars almost daily with crushed ice to keep vegetables fresh in transit. It was all electric and all automatic, but a gas engine standby generator was kept handy to produce its own power if it was needed.

In the early days and the not-to-early days the front door screen on most houses held an ice card daily, indicating if and how much ice was needed on that particular day. The old ice box for many years was the only means of keeping perishables fresh then and the ice had to be purchased every day.

I hate to admit it, but I can remember the old ice box sitting in the kitchen at our house when I was a small child and if my mother didn't buy ice from the ice truck every day, my dad would go by the Southern Ice Co., and bring home a block.

I remember how I loved it when my dad would chip off a piece of ice and let me suck on it in the hot summertime. Even after the electric refrigerator was moved into our kitchen my dad would buy block ice whenever he made homemade ice cream in his crank ice cream maker. He preferred to chip the ice and mix it with salt to freeze the cream as someone turned the crank. Generally I had to sit on towels or a rug atop the freezer to keep it still while it was being cranked. Except for Ashburn's there was no better ice cream in that time.

A glass of iced tea or lemonade on a hot summer day was a special treat when the glass was filled with ice that hade been chipped with an ice pick. This was before the advent of crushed ice.

As electricity brought the electric refrigerator onto the scene, fewer and fewer ice delivery wagons, trucks or vans were seen until they completely disappeared from the scene.

Then came crushed ice and automatic dispensers, and then serve yourself bags of crushed ice such as those provided in convenience stores today. But none of that ice came from the Crystal Ice Plant. Aside from Southern Ice Co., the business fell into the hands of several other companies before it was completely shut down for a number of years and the building stood vacant.

Then in 1993, like so many of Denison's early day landmarks, the building was razed and all that remains is the concrete foundation that still stands as a reminder of what once was a thriving Denison business. Several people have had big plans for the site, but none of them have ever materialized.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at


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