Elliot’s Ice Company

12 Aug

Here’s a bit of cool trivia for a hot day—in 1906, the opening price lists for ice in Charlottesville show that one could attain a ton of ice (no, literally, a TON) at retail price for between $6 and $10.  Wholesale, the same amount went for $3.50 – $5.50.  That’s a whole lotta ice, for much less than I could imagine today!

Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger, 1915.

So why are we talking about ice?  Well, aside from it being a nice relief when its hotter than blazes outside, ice is our theme for this week’s featured objects from Elliot’s Ice Company, formerly the  Charlottesville Ice Company.

Our two objects were donated separately, over a decade apart.  The ice tongs came first.  These tongs, ca. 1895, are made of iron with a wooden handle.  They were used for handling the ice chunks.  On deliveries, chunks of as heavy as 50 pounds would be delivered to homes.  The container, donated in 2009, features the name Elliot Ice Company, dating it between 1922 and 1964.*

Charlottesville Ice Company tongs, ACHS Collection MU 75.

Elliot's Ice Company container. ACHS Collection 2009.8.268.

An Icy History

Compared to the price I pay when my cooler is running low and I’m forced to stop at a gas station for a bag, the price of ice in 1906 is deceivingly low.  Yet throughout history, ice has been quite a privileged commodity- especially in the southern United States.  In the 19th to early 20th centuries, ice boxes necessitated a constant supply of ice, only available from the harvests of frozen lakes and streams.  For southern states, a year’s ice supply was dependent on the harvests of the winter.  Horse-drawn plows equipped with knives would cut ice into blocks, which would then be stored in ice houses, covered with hay.  Elizabeth Gamble of Charlottesville recalled the effects of these in an interview with David Maurer of the Daily Progress in 1990, saying, “Of course, quite often you would get a bit of straw in your iced tea, but that certainly wasn’t anything to be concerned about.”  As ice became more widely available via ice factories and refrigerated rail cars, the phenomenon made its way to Charlottesville.

Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger, 1916.

In 1901, the Charlottesville Ice Company was built at the intersection of Fourth and South Streets, and set about manufacturing and delivering ice.

The latter was done by horse-drawn wagon, of which Gamble also reminisced in 1990: “When the icemen began delivering ice to our home it was never a mystery if they’d come or not because if they had, there was always drippings on the road and the porch.”  Bonnie Ballard expounded on the importance of these deliveries: “In the summer, the kids would come running when they would hear the bell on his truck as though he [her father, an iceman] was the ice cream man.”  I can only imagine the delight of seeing that ice wagon pull up to your house on a hot summer day!  Frances Ball, another Charlottesville resident, told Maurer: “It [ice wagon] would have a bell on it which alerted the neighborhood that the iceman was coming.”

In 1922, J.F. Elliot, who had worked for the company, took over as president, and in a burst of pride, changed the name to Elliot’s Ice Company.  In 1928, those famous horse-drawn wagons were replaced with Ford ice trucks, but much to everyone’s delight, kept the announcement bells.

Elliot's Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger.

At this time, however, refrigerators began replacing the wooden iceboxes which necessitated ice deliveries.  It wasn’t until the late 1950s, however, that the company stopped delivering ice to homes.  In 1964, Elliot’s was purchased by Monticello Dairy and moved to Grady Avenue.   Then, in 1972, the dairy caught fire, which I’m certain made for one ironic and very wet situation.  A year later, the city, which had owned the property since 1971, razed the landmark of “the time before refrigerators” as part of the redevelopment of Garrett Street.

Site of former Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by Steve Trumbull, 2011.

*At the time of publication, the editor has been unable to determine the exact use of the container.  Please comment to inform!


1901- The Charlottesville Ice Company is built at South & Fourth streets, and begins manufacturing and delivering ice to Charlottesville residents.

1906- A ton of ice can be purchased for $3.50-$10.  Charlottesville prices appear low compared to state averages, and mid-range compared to national averages at this time.

1922- J.F. Elliot, a long-time employee of the Charlottesville Ice Co., takes over as president and changes the name to Elliot’s Ice Company.

1928- 12 Ford trucks replace the horse-drawn carriages as Elliot’s Ice Company’s means of delivering ice to homes.

Late 1950s- Elliot’s Ice Company stops delivering ice to homes.

1964- Monticello Dairy purchases Elliot’s Ice Company, moving the company to Grady Avenue.

1971- The City of Charlottesville assumes ownership of the former Charlottesville Ice Company building on South & Fourth Streets.

1972- The former Charlottesville Ice Company building catches fire.

1973- The City of Charlottesville razes the former Charlottesville Ice Company building as part of the Garrett Street redevelopment project.

Further Reading

Ice Trade Journal Company.  “Opening Price Lists of Ice.” Refrigerating World.  Vol. 31 (April 1906): 49.

Maurer, David.  “The iceman goeth with dawn of ‘electric boxes’.”  Daily Progress  (May 20, 1990).

Trumball, Steve.  “Charlottesville Ice Company.” Charlottesville Then and Now (March 12, 2011).


One Response to “Elliot’s Ice Company”

  1. charlottesvillealbemarlehistory August 12, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    A special thanks to ACHS volunteer ANNA EARNST for her help researching and editing this entry!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: