The Year Was 1877: Fire and Ice (Part 2)

Articles and ads in the Daily Fort Worth Standard of 1877 remind us that the goods and services (see Part 1) we take for granted today couldn’t be taken for granted in the Cowtown of 136 years ago.

Ice, for instance. Today a big metal box in our kitchen both manufactures and preserves ice for us.

But in 1877 keeping beer and other beverages cold, preserving meat, fish, and dairy products for as long as possible were challenges, especially during the Texas summer. Most ice in Fort Worth came from elsewhere, especially from up north, especially from frozen northern lakes. A few factories were making ice in Texas in 1877, but as far as I can determine, Fort Worth did not have an ice plant until about 1878.

(The “Gus. Rintleman” referred to in the ad later owned the Local Option Saloon in Hell’s Half Acre. In fact, Rintleman became political boss of the Third Ward, which included the Acre.)

Saloons no doubt were among Mr. Mole’s biggest customers. But the term refrigerator in 1877 did not mean what it means today. Back then a refrigerator was just an ice box—a wooden chest that was insulated to slow the melting of ice. It did not freeze water.

The arrival of a railroad “refrigerator car” that was especially constructed to keep beer cold during transit was newsworthy. It was essentially an ice box on wheels.

Also newsworthy was W. Y. Cook’s new ice house. Its vaults stored both ice and beer. (“Maddox’s” refers to the Maddox livery stable on Rusk Street.)

Note that the reporter wrote of riding out on the “prairie” en route to the new ice house east of the Texas & Pacific passenger depot, which can be seen near the horizon in this 1876 bird’s-eye-view map. That’s where Main and Lancaster streets cross today, about eighteen blocks (one mile) south of the courthouse.

At the wholesale level, carloads of ice were delivered on trains from up north. Remember that the railroad had finally come to Fort Worth only the previous year.

At the retail level, blocks of ice were delivered from ice houses to homes and businesses by horse and wagon.

As this Star-Telegram clipping from 1920 shows, home delivery of ice would continue for decades.

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