Artwork was recently unveiled at the old Linden ice house at the corner of Houston and Smithland. After an introduction by Barbara Teachey, a Linden Heritage Foundation Board member living in Richmond, Virginia, building owner Sue Morris Lazara collaborated with Chad Buice—a schoolteacher, artist, and musician living near Atlanta, Georgia—to create and paint panels on the ice house and the adjacent Sweet Shop facade. Barbara and Chad are both avid Don Henley fans.
Ice production began in Linden at a time when residents did not have electrical refrigeration. Established in 1937, this ice house was the second ice production plant in Linden. An earlier and smaller capacity plant was located along the railroad tracks in the building later known as the Claude Hall Machine Shop (301 W. Rush).
This quadrant of town was Linden’s industrial/warehouse district. It had the 1911 railroad depot, the 1913 electric gin, the c.1920 (?) ice plant, a Gulf Oil warehouse (now restored as a residence across from Dollar General), at least two cotton gins, and the sawmill of R. A. Morse (later the George Morse Lumber Company). R. A. Morse built the 1939 Firehouse.
Both of the Linden ice plants used hollow clay tile walls because they are self-insulating. The double-air chambers, encased by the structural tile, is what keeps things cool on the interior. This is why hollow clay tile is used so extensively in the southwest states and Mexico for residential and commercial construction.
Prior to WWI, few small towns had local ice production. They were lucky to have access to summer ice by railroad, which was a luxury. In the 1920s and 1930s, communities were finally getting ice service by a network of ice plants to cool the “ice boxes” on the family back porch.
The Linden Ice Co. had a route for ice delivery and wagons (later trucks) that ran constantly with a bed of ice covered by heavy canvas tarps. The frequency of delivery was stepped up in warm months.
The “ice boxes” on residential back porches were cooled by inserting a 50-pound block of ice into the hatch on top where it cooled an insulated chamber below. The ice melt was collected in a pan beneath the unit. People also drove to the plant to purchase block ice or crushed ice for picnics, parties, and other gatherings. Snow cones were sold on the premises in summer. Every family had an ice pick to chip ice from their purchased blocks into the right size for summer tea and lemonade. It was only after WWII that most people in East Texas added compressor refrigeration to their homes and, even then, the ice plant remained economically viable for many decades.
Sue Lazara recalled, “In each ‘freezing’ cycle, thousands of pounds of ice were produced. The brine bath had propellers to keep the cold water circulating around each of 100 vats, with each vat holding 300 pounds of ice. A network of pipes ran through the brine bath, part of a closed loop ammonia system that circulated the coolant through the brine and then up to the cooling tower in back.”
The concrete cooling tower pedestal remains in place, although the tower is gone. The tower was like a tall wooden structure with four sloping sides of wooden shutters to allow air circulation while keeping warm rays of the sun away from the cooling pipes. Naturally it was more efficient to produce ice in cold and cloudy weather, so production continued over the winter months with the manufactured ice stored in an “ice vault” for later.
To set the freezing vats into the brine, and to remove them after freezing, there was a hoist on a grid that could move to any position over the brine tank. When the vats were fully frozen, the hoist would lift each vat out and transfer it to the side deck. The freezing container was then hosed down to release the big block of ice, which was like a giant popsicle of solid ice to be stored in the vault until being sold to a customer.
When taken out of the vault to be sold, a 300-pound block of ice was passed through an electric-powered scoring machine (as shown in Chad’s window art). After a good scoring, a worker could separate the ice into 50-pound blocks with a sharp rap on the block with a hammer or other instrument.
On August 5, 1937, the Cass County Sun published an article titled “Linden Ice Co. Making Ice Cream,” which said: The Linden Ice Co. has installed ice cream making equipment and is now making ice cream for the wholesale and retail trade. We were graciously offered a sample of the cream made Monday and must say it was as good as any we ever aet [sic]. The company has also opened up a ice cream parlor in connection with their Ice business, where you can buy ice cream in any quantity from one serving to a car load.
The Sweet Shop occupied the east side of the building, selling ice cream, candy, sodas, burgers, and other goodies. Rosie Wynn operated the Sweet Shop, also known as “The Tiger’s Den,” a favorite hangout for students of the Linden schools.
Meanwhile, Lester Wynn, another son, rented a room and lived in Jefferson in the summer of 1948, driving an ice truck for the ice house there, delivering ice to homes and businesses. His work day began by removing the number of 300-pound blocks required to complete his route, running them through the scoring machine, loading them onto the truck, covering the ice with a tarp, and departing. He recalled that the Jefferson ice-scoring machine was different than the Linden machine, as it was much larger. The Linden machine required running the block through twice, once upright and once on its side. He had to manually lay the block down using tongs. The Jefferson machine only required that he start the block on its side. It then scored the block and the sides. It came out of the machine near the truck. He used an ice pick in the scored area to break it apart. This required going back and forth across the area several times but the ice broke straight. He did his job while making arrangements to enter the U. S. Navy. He was sworn in November 29, 1948.
In December 1955, C. E. Bell acquired the property and operated the ice house. There were several subsequent owners of the property: John D. Harris, Charles Cox, and Leonard Boney.
At some point in the 1980s, the roof of the Linden ice house failed. Perhaps in construction or in later repairs, the scuppers of the low-slope roof had been roofed over , blocking proper water evacuation, and which began to pool on top.
Eventually there was a breach in the roofing layers and the pooling water began to penetrate by force of gravity.
The seriousness of this water situation was not immediately apparent, because there was a second ceiling below the upper one; 18” of sawdust was packed between the two ceilings as insulation. This was done to keep the ice vault cool and to more efficiently hold ice produced over the winter from melting so it could be sold the following summer.
Roofs are typically the point of greatest heat transfer into buildings. Sawdust as insulating material was readily available in a sawmill region such as Linden.
After the roof breach, water began to penetrate and the sawdust soaked up more and more of the seeping water. The wet sawdust then began not only to rot the structural joists but also to dramatically increase the overhead weight load on the trussing of the building. With the sawdust acting as a sponge, water distributed across the entire roof destroying all the joists, even where there was no leak directly overhead. After years of this type of water penetration, the structure could not hold and the ceiling collapsed, along with most of the trussing.
The damage was done, no repairs were made, and operations ceased.
In 2002, Sue Lazara purchased the property from Leonard Boney, cleared the collapsed ceiling, and moved interesting equipment off site for eventual rehabilitation of the buildings. The lot in rear was acquired and cleared, including a derelict structure, to give the ice house property future parking and expansion space along the full depth of Smithland Street.
In 2017, Chad Buice visited Linden and expressed interest in an art project. Chad and Sue struck a deal to share project responsibility, with Chad as designer-in-chief. In gratitude, Sue says, “Chad has been perfectly wonderful to work with and the hearts of the entire Wiley/Morris/Lazara family are warmed by his tribute to our beloved Charley and Becky.”
This summer, 2018, Chad will return to put some final artwork on the building.