With the cold weather we’ve had recently, we’ve certainly had our fair share of ice. On cars and roads, it is a fairly unappreciated part of winter. But as soon as summer comes along, we’re all grateful to have ice in our drinks and in our freezers.
The process of acquiring ice was originally much harder than it is today. Before the ice industry took off, perishable food was usually kept underground in areas such as cellars or in ice houses. Ice houses were pits dug in the ground and usually covered to keep the cool air from escaping. Ice was cut from nearby water sources and placed in the pit. But ice wasn’t harvested and shipped on a large scale until Frederic Tudor began distributing ice from New England to people all over the country in the mid-1800s. The ice, cut into large blocks, had to be at least 8 inches thick to prevent melting in transit.
People now had better access to ice and so iceboxes were created to store both ice and perishable items. It was then up to the iceman to cut the blocks to the correct size for customers. As he did his deliveries, people placed a card in their windows to indicate how many pounds of ice they needed that day. Eventually iceboxes gave way to electric refrigerators as they became more affordable and reliable and the ice industry declined.
Fremont County had a small ice industry as early as the late 1800s. There were icehouses near Grape Creek where ice was stored after it was cut during the winter months. By 1902, the Crystal Ice Company had opened which both manufactured ice and cut ice from Grape Creek in the event the machinery broke and reserves were needed. The capacity of the plant was 10 tons daily according to the Cañon City Record on August 21, 1902. The plant ran year-round and the ice manufactured in the winter was stored for use in the summer months. Despite the ability for Cripple Creek to get natural ice, they preferred the artificial ice and purchased from the Crystal Ice Company. While that may seem a bit strange, manufactured ice is usually cleaner than natural ice, which contained debris, especially when it came from stagnant water like ponds.
Other ice companies and proprietors in Fremont County included the Solomon icehouse run by Jim Roup in Hillside, the Rocky Mountain Ice Company in Cañon City, the Poteet Ice Company in Florence, and Hynes’ Ice and Cold Storage in Cañon City. The Poteet Ice Company, which was run by Luther Poteet, cut their ice in an area near Hillside. The ice blocks were then taken by train to Florence and stored in buildings there. Any extra blocks were stored in an ice house in Hillside. The harvest of ice in 1927 was undertaken on December 30, which was a week earlier than normal due to continued cold weather. It was expected to take two weeks to cut 2,400 tons according to the Cañon City Daily Record.
Hynes’ Ice and Cold Storage started a bit later in the 1920s and was run by Sylvanus Hynes, who moved down from Victor where he had operated another ice company. He had two locations for cold storage and ice production; one was located at 2nd and Water Street and the other was at 15th and Water Street. Despite the decline of the ice industry, his business lasted until the 1950s.
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.