2003-03-01 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

From The Rockaway Museum Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
Artificial Ice Comes To The Rockaways
by Emil Lucev, Curator

Historical Views of the Rockaways
Artificial Ice Comes To The Rockaways
From The Rockaway Museum
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, perishable foodstuffs and cool drinks were chilled by ice...and that ice was literally cut from lakes and ponds (with lots of impurities within) in Far Rockaway and on the peninsula.

The cutting of the ice was done in winter, and small icehouses were built throughout the peninsula. The ice blocks were, for the greater part, stored in these icehouses partly underground - and packed heavily with sawdust for insulation. There was plenty of sawdust around with all the sawmills here.

The ice harvest did not produce consistent yields. If it was a warm winter, the ice was not thick enough. If it rained at the wrong times, the ice might contain too much dirt or debris.

The best ice crop was found in the northern states. Here on the east coast, Maine was the center of the natural ice industry. During the winter of 1889-90, for example, 3 million tons of ice was harvested in Maine.

The majority was stored or shipped to southern cities - and the Rockaways! Commercial ice storage houses were well insulated, and ice could be kept for a few years - with a loss of no more than 10 - 25 percent. Here thick cork insulation and sawdust was used. In 1890 it was reported that the Remsen Lake Ice Company imported 12 carloads from Maine.

With the advent of mechanical, absorption, and compressor air refrigeration machines - commercial hygeia ice manufacturing killed the lake ice business. As water supplies - rivers, ponds, lakes - became more polluted, the public was made aware the hygeia or manufactured ice was made from deep well water.

Pictured today is the Arverne Hygeia Ice Company, opened in 1890 at the foot of Kane Avenue (Beach 79 Street) in West Arverne. Another picture from the attic of Denise Brunner.

A 740 foot deep well at the site provided fresh clean water for ice. With this opening, the ice man cometh to Rockaway Beach. In the same year (1890) the Queens County Hygeia Ice Company opened in Far Rockaway, and the Henry Eppig Ice Plant opened in Bayswater.

No early details are available on the plant as to the type of machinery used, and daily output of clear ice. But an 1897 ad placed during a volunteer fireman's tournament here gave Mr. G. I. Eddy as the then manager, and the address given was Box 39, Oceanus P.O. (Oceanus was the name and P.O. until it was changed to Rockaway Beach in 1905.

In 1901 Mr. John R. Murray of the beach (if you will) purchased the ice plant (and two others on the peninsula later) calling the triumvirate the Murand Ice Company. In 1910 the American Natural Ice Company was given as the name. The following year it was Arverne Hygeia again, and during the 1930's the John R. Murray Ice Company again.

At the close of World War Two the plants were sold to the American Ice Company, a subsidiary of the old Knickerbocker/Rubel Ice empire here in the city. The Rubel Company had once owned one of Murray's ice plants in the Rockaways.

The post World War II years saw the ice business die a slow death. Household refrigerators and commercial refrigeration units kept everything cool and made ice cubes for drinks.

The old Arverne Hygeia Ice plant was taken over by the Chain Bike Corporation in 1950, but that company has long since moved out of the Rockaways. Since then the site has been occupied by a waste removal outfit, and at present a used auto parts place is doing business there; the Bay Used Auto Parts & Sales, Inc.

As a lad in the ice business with grandfather, Mike Louis, until the refrigerator killed the business in 1951, I made many trips to all the icehouses in the Rockaways: 14-23 Redfern Avenue, Far Rockaway; 302 Beach 42 Street, Edgemere; foot of Beach 79 Street, Arverne; & 305 Pearsall Avenue, Cedarhurst. These were operated by the Knickerbocker Ice Company.

During the old fashioned freezing winter months, a window box was used for foodstuffs, to cut down on ice use during winter. An apple crate was nailed to a window frame and secured - outside the window!

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