Time Machine

Time Machine: 'Natural' Hubbard Ice was cut from frozen Cedar before plant produced 'artificial' ice

A crew from Hubbard’s Ice cuts blocks of ice in 1925 from the Cedar River. This photo was taken from the Northwestern Railroad bridge. Each block weighed about 300 pounds and was stored for use in the summer. By August, most of the ice had been purchased and sometimes ice had to be brought in by train from points to the north. (Submitted by Bill Kuba.) (Submitted by Bill Kuba)
A crew from Hubbard’s Ice cuts blocks of ice in 1925 from the Cedar River. This photo was taken from the Northwestern Railroad bridge. Each block weighed about 300 pounds and was stored for use in the summer. By August, most of the ice had been purchased and sometimes ice had to be brought in by train from points to the north. (Submitted by Bill Kuba.) (Submitted by Bill Kuba)
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In 1870, a new icehouse went up on the east bank of the Cedar River between Washington (Second) and Commercial (First) streets, above Linn (A Avenue), as.

Owned by Elias Tarlton “E.T.” Hooper and Charles P. “Charley” Hubbard, it was 52-by-94 feet and 16 feet high, “big enough to hold ice enough to keep Cedar Rapids cold enough next summer,” the Cedar Rapids Times reported.

The business would continue, through several iterations, for more than a century. The business moved to the west side of the river in 1901, at 1124 First St. NW, and will be razed sometime soon to make way for the Cedar Rapids flood control system.

When Hubbard came to Cedar Rapids in 1866, he clerked in a leather store, while Hooper and Joseph Calder ran a meat market. By 1870, Hooper and Hubbard were partners in the ice business.

At the time, ice was cut from the Cedar River in the winter. Crews of 50 to 100 men cut several thousand tons of ice a day, moving it to storage for use during the spring and summer. The ice was stored in icehouses with snow driven between the layers. It’s likely the icehouse was insulated with sawdust.

The ice survived into the summer and was delivered by ice wagons to homes with ice boxes. In the days before electricity, the slabs of ice were placed in the insulated ice boxes, which were cool enough to preserve milk and butter.

In 1875, Hooper & Hubbard crews cut and pulled 6,000 tons of ice from the river that year. The breweries had cut 3,000 tons, and Hooper & Hubbard’s main competitor, McDaniels & Co., had harvested 1,000 tons. They were dwarfed by the 23,000 tons T.M. Sinclair & Co. had put away for its meatpacking business.

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The Hooper & Hubbard partnership was dissolved in 1882 when Hooper retired, and Hubbard took over the company.

In 1883, Walter S. Hooper revived his father’s ice business and became Hubbard’s competitor. Then E.T. Hooper returned to manage the company’s business with the packinghouse.

ICE BUSINESS

In January 1884, Hubbard took a Gazette reporter on a tour of the ice business, “nearly freezing him to death, but also filling his notebook with pointers on the ice business.”

The ice on the Cedar River was clean and clear and about 16 inches thick during the harvest.

Hubbard’s crew of 120 was nearly done filling the main icehouse to its capacity of 8,000 tons. In addition to filling his icehouse, he was contracted to cut 3,000 tons of ice for the Magnus Brewery. He also cut ice for the Geo. Williams brewery, the Chicago & North Western and the Chicago, Minneapolis & St. Paul railways and for the Higley Brothers.

By the time the season was over, Hubbard’s crews cut and stored more than 16,000 tons of ice.

Ice workers were paid $1.50 per day, or $3 a day for teams of drivers and horses.

A 1909 Gazette story reported the process: “The ice is first entirely cleared of snow and ruled off in squares by an instrument something like a plow ... (which) cuts into the ice about three or four inches and guides the men who later come with large ice saws and cut the ice into long strips, which are floated to the banks at one side, where they are loaded and taken to the icehouse or run up an elevator if the icehouse is near the place where they are cutting.”

ICE WAGONS

Critical to the ice trade were the ice wagons that delivered ice to the company’s customers.

in 1875, the ice company debuted a new ice wagon, with Hooper falling into the river where the ice was thin. The ice harvest season concluded in February, with Hooper falling into the water for a third time.

Hubbard ordered a new wagon in 1891 from Cedar Rapids’ Star wagon works. The red wagon had a large box covered with canvas, with Hubbard’s Ice painted in gold lettering on the bronze-green sides.

ARTIFICIAL ICE

In 1915, the company started producing “artificial ice” at its plant.

In 1917, Hubbard Ice became Hubbard Ice & Coal Co., adding fuels and cold storage warehousing.

In 1922, Hubbard consolidated with the Chadima Ice Co. The new company was managed by Joe Chadima and members of the Chadima family.

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Two years later, the company built a new fireproof building for its artificial ice plant, adding a brick office building 10 years later.

The transition from natural ice to artificial ice was gradual. In 1926, 30,000 tons were harvested from the river, and 3,000 tons of artificial ice was made in the plant.

By 1929, all of the ice was produced in the plant. The company stopped selling “natural” ice altogether that year, saying artificial ice produced a superior product.

In 1931, the company changed its name to Hubbard Ice & Fuel, adding fuel oil and oil burners, furnaces and other oil-burning equipment. The main plant added oil storage tanks.

ARTISTIC WAGONS

Hubbard’s old ice wagons, which had been replaced by trucks, found another use in the 1930s for Grant Wood’s Stone City art colony.

Joseph T. Chadima was approached by the colony’s business manager, Grace Boston, about buying the old wagons. When he asked why she wanted them, she said, “I want them for artists’ bunks. We would like to use them instead of tents at Stone City.”

The idea came from Davenport artist James Kelley, who had just returned from a trip to Mexico. “They won’t blow over in a windstorm,” Kelley said. “They have dry floors in case of damp weather and — aw, heck, they are so much more romantic!”

With a permit issued to take the ice wagons on the public highway, the unusual caravan set out for Stone City early one morning.

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At their destination, they were re-roofed, painted and decorated and parked from the Green mansion to the old stone tower.

BUSINESS GROWS

By 1936, the company’s 110 tons of ice were produced using water from artesian wells. Thirty-five cars made ice deliveries every day.

Hubbard Ice & Fuel Co. was dissolved in 1997. Quality Chef Foods took over the property until 2002, when it was acquired by investors and remodeled into the Hubbard Industrial Park.

The complex was severely damaged in the 2008 flood, eventually leading to the decision to raze it.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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