History and Genealogy of Valley Head, AL
The Wilson, Carter County, Oklahoma— Connection
The town of Wilson, Oklahoma located in Carter County is home to one of the earliest industries of this nation, ice. The cold gold that saved the milk, butter, eggs and meat of a young country from spoilage until the 1920s when mechanical refrigeration became the standard for preserving food.
In the early days blocks of ice were cut from frozen lakes and streams then transported to an ice house for storage. Usually the ice blocks were packed in sawdust and place in a building insulated with hay. The blocks of ice traveled by wagon, train, flat bottom boat or ship from New England to points south and west. The first shipment of ice was carried by ship from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina in 1799.
By 1851 John Gorrie had built the first machine for making ice on a large scale and by 1868, in New Orleans, the first factory was build to take the new technology commercial.
Soon refrigerated railroad cars followed. From Detroit to New Orleans and all points west, a new type of ice age had begun.
November 26, 1920 the following article appeared in the local paper, Wilson Good Roads Gazette:
GEORGE R. GORDON, OF WIRT, INTERESTED IN ICE PLANT
George B. Gordon, a drilling contractor, whose home is at Wirt, was in Wilson Monday looking at different locations for a proposed ice factory.
Associated with Mr. Gordon is F. S. Nicholls, a practical ice plant manager. They contemplate erecting a thirty-five ton plant. A quantity of city water has been sent off for analysis and when returned, if it proves that ice can be made from it without expensive filtering or special treatment, the greatest difficulty in the way of locating the plant at this point will be removed.
May 30, 1922 the following article appeared in the local paper, Wilson Post-Democrat:
Plant Running Full Blast Now
The Wilson ice plant, perhaps the biggest institution is Wilson, has opened up and is running full blast now. This means much to Wilson, as getting ice enough to furnish the people thru the hot season here, at a reasonable price has always been a proposition.
Mr. Reed, manager of the plant, told a Democrat reporter this morning that they would turn out a car of ice daily. Wilson is fortunate in having such a big institution like the Wilson ice plant, and the Daily Democrat wishes this institution much success
Chill of ice storm brings back fond memories of ice plant in past years
by Correna Wilson
Wilson Post-Democrat, January 4, 2001
Wilsonite, George Strawn, who was employed at the ice plant by owner, Henry Keeling for the summer only, starting in 1946, recently brought memories of long and hectic heydays of the Wilson Ice Plant to life.
He said he worked long and hard hours during those hot summer months, but starting the next year from 1947-1953, he learned his job well and learned the names of every person in Wilson.
George took a stroll down memory lane as he related how he had helped in making ice and made local deliveries on a part-time basis. L. D. Scarberry was the full-time employee during this period, but later quit in 1949 to go to work for Shell Oil Company at Dillard.
At this time, George was placed on full-time, on the dock and up front, plus delivering ice to the Main Street businesses every morning. This was during the era when people didn't have refrigeration and to preserve everything, the grocery stores and Pfeffer's and Ballew's Drug Stores, all together, used fro 1800-2000 pounds daily.
He loaded the pick-up with 3000 pounds every morning for home deliveries. He said the southwest sector of town used from 2000 to 25000 pound every other day and the north side used about 2000 pounds every day. He said he could remember when he would be loading up the ice for his deliveries that a young boy, Clyde Little, would come pick up some of the ice shaving, which often had large pieces in it, for his mother, Lillie Tracy.
Each customer had a sign, approximately 8x10 in size, with amounts of 25, 50, 75 or 100 in their window or on the door in sight of the delivery person, depicting how much ice the customer wanted that day. He recalled several customers of the ice plant were Louise Gray, Ozella Jones Renzelman, and Izola Cudd who married Red Griffin, way back when you could buy big chunks of ice for five cents.
He told of how before deliveries were made by pick-ups, they were made in wagons. He started he thought he had a horseshoe from a horse that was used to pull one of the ice wagons.
Strawn had a diagram he had drawn showing a dock built all along the north and west sides, with of the office in a separate building which was located on the north side of the plant. The diagram also gave the layout of the interior of the icehouse, illustrating the three large storage vaults, located at the front, which were kept at a temperature ranging from 24-28 degrees. He said the main vault was the northwest vault, called the number one, and was where they pulled all the ice.
All of the ice that was scored, (marked for varying pound sizes) then stored in the other two vaults on the south side, kept at 24-degrees, for storage for the surrounding towns.
Strawn showed great pride in relating how the Wilson plant was called the Crystal Ice Plant because the ice was frozen from circulating water, making it crystal clear, without any air bubbles in it. He also relished the fact that it produced more ice than the Ardmore plant.
He told of the ice plant's two water wells, one to the north and one to the east side of the plant, which pumped all of their water. The cement structure located on the south side of the plant was the cooling tower where water circulated over coils and then down into what they called pits.
The outside walls of the building are still intact, but not much remains of the interior. Strawn gave me a personal tour of the building, showing where he had helped to run the cement at the front of the building where Henry Keeling had a large storage tank placed. He said he also helped in the installation of the three chutes which replaced the old two chute loading sites.
Then touring the interior part, he showed the back part where the ice was made. Large water pumps were located in the southeast corner, with pipes running to the pits. There are pieces of the old pipes still in place at that site.
In pointing to the platform, pieces of the rock foundation are still in place where the motors for freezing the large freezing tanks were, running from west to the east end of the plant, He said the water was constantly circulating in the steel-lined tank.
The track and pulley, which operated off 220 voltage and pulled the cans of ice in 300 pound blocks of ice to the front, are still in place also on the north side of the building. The blocks of ice were dropped into vats full of water, for about 10 minutes. This process loosened the ice from the steel cans, which were then dumped through chutes into the main vault.
Following that step, George and other workers then went into the vaults where they stood the blocks of ice on ends. Later, the men loaded the ice into trucks from Ringling for Henry Kyker; from Healdton for Herman Connell; and for Mr. Thomas who came every day for six three-hundred-pound blocks for his grocery store he operated in Pruitt City.
The Wilson Ice Plant also serviced ice houses in Davis, Madill and also took care of all the ice needed for the Ardmore plant.
Strawn came to the site where the circulating pump was located in the northwest corner of the building. He said this pump circulated what was called brine water, and he told of dumping from 1500 to 2000 pounds of salt into the top of the tank at least once every summer. He stated a glass bottle of pop could be placed in the brine pit for just three or four minutes, and it would be frozen solid.
In answer to my question of how cold it was, he said he didn't know exactly how cold it was kept but knew it had to very cold in order to freeze circulating water solid in 300 pound cans.
He told of how on a good, hot summer day, there would be from nine to 10 rows of ice, making 120 blocks of 300-310 pounds, being pulled every 10 hours every day. He said the plant was open 24 hours a day.
In answering questions about the equipment being over-worked, he said it was so hard on the equipment in the summer, that belts were always popping and slapping which required the use of lots of belt dressing.
Strawn said his uniform was white coveralls with an insignia with Crystal Ice Company, Wilson, Oklahoma stitched on it.
Today, this old ice plant is owned by the Weaver family, Mrs. Weaver is a descendent of the Crows, Ellis’ and Beaty’s of DeKalb County, Alabama.