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The Ice Industry

Prior to the 1830s, food was generally preserved by salting, spicing, pickling, or smoking. Butchers slaughtered meat only for the day's trade, as preservation for longer periods was not practical. Milk and dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables subject to spoilage were sold in local markets since storage and shipping farm produce over any significant distance or time was not practical. Indeed, milk was often hauled to city markets at night when temperatures were cooler. Ale and beer making required cool temperatures and its manufacture was limited to the cooler months.

The early ice industry was localized. Farmers cut small harvests from local ponds, and only better homes, taverns, and hotels purchased ice from local dealers. Ice was a luxury not commonly available to the general public except for cooling drinks.

Urbanization, improved ice-box technology, and consumer demand, including the popularity of mineral waters, fruit juices, and ice cream, stimulated the creation of an American ice industry. Farmers increased their use of ice for meat and dairy use. Food cooled with ice could be shipped by railroad to more distant places. During the last half of the nineteenth century, ice became a necessity for home and business, and by the 1870s there were substantial ice dealers in medium-sized communities like Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

The first commercial ice dealer in Wilkes-Barre was Capt. Gilman Converse, captain of the Wyoming, a 155-foot steamboat which hauled freight and passengers on the Susquehanna River from 1849 to 1852 between Tunkhannock and Pittston, with occasional trips to Wilkes-Barre. Gilman sold ice from 1855 to 1865, cutting it from the river and local ponds. After Gilman's business was destroyed in a March 1865 flood, he was succeeded by the Wilkes-Barre Ice Company, which was followed by the Wyoming Valley Ice Company in 1869.

By 1880, an estimated 5 million tons of ice was consumed by the American public. Pennsylvania was the nation's third largest producer of ice, following Maine and New York. Pennsylvania consumed about 1 million tons annually, cut on the state's lakes and rivers or bought from Maine and New York ice firms. The industry, by this time, also supported major conglomerate ice firms; the most well-known was the Knickerbocker Ice Company of New York, which also reached into Pennsylvania. With the growth of the ice industry during the 1880s, substantial regional companies were formed in White Haven and Pocono Lake.

Albert Lewis and Arthur L. Stull were the founders of two major ice production companies in Luzerne County. In the mid-1800s, Lewis and Stull jointly founded the Mountain Springs Ice Company in Ross Township, located now in state game lands adjacent to Ricketts Glen State Park. Lewis left the Mountain Springs company in 1912. Stull, along with his brother Albert A. Stull, and a son Robert A. Stull, then managed the Mountain Springs Ice Company. Lewis owned an even larger ice company at Bear Creek, near Wilkes-Barre, where he lived in a Tudor mansion amid a unique company town.

This work offers a history of Albert Lewis and Arthur L. Stull and their creation of two Bowman's Creek towns, Stull and Mountain Springs. In addition, the story of Col. Robert Bruce Ricketts and the lumbering town named after him on Mehoopany Creek is explored.

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Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo