Denison Crystal Ice Co, in the early days
By DONNA HUNT
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
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
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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