from the top of the bank and little noticed from the bayou when the vegetation
growth is high, the ruins of the Crystal Ice Works remind us of the vibrant
industrial activity in the Frost Town area during the first 100 years of
Set on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou on the west side of McKee Street,
the Crystal Ice Works occupied the site that had been the home of Mrs. E.
McKee as late as 1869. About 1880, the Houston Elevator Company built a grain
elevator on the site that, by 1885, was leased to and operated by the Texas
Star Flour Mills Grain Elevator Company. It had the capacity for the storage
of 150,000 bushels of wheat in 26 wheat bins. However, by 1890, the Crystal
Ice Works had taken over the facility from the Houston Elevator Company.
The Ice Factory of the Crystal Ice
Works was a major industrial enterprise on the north bank of the bayou. It
had a capacity of making forty tons of ice every 24 hours using an absorber
process. The production of ice was dependent on water and the site on the
bayou was chosen for a reason. The water supply for the factory was two fold.
There was an artesian well on the lower part of the bank to tap the ground
water and water from the bayou was pumped to the facility through a five
inch suction pipe.
By 1907, the Crystal Ice Company had made improvements to its main building
which included rooms for a freezing tank, a cold storage facility and a condenser
room. A number of other out buildings were located on the property and a
rail siding with a loading platform was on the north side of the plant. An
additional rail siding extended along the bayou side of the plant. A steel
truss, swing bridge had been constructed across Buffalo Bayou at McKee Street
in 1904 to increase commercial traffic between the north side of the bayou
and the City's East End. Business was expanding.
By this time, the Crystal Ice Company, situated adjacent to the Southern
Pacific Railroad yard, became a supplier of ice to the local operations
of the Pacific Fruit Express. The Pacific Fruit Express, established in 1906,
was a joint venture between the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads
for refrigerator cars used for the rapid shipment of perishable fruits and
vegetables. The brainchild of Edward H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad,
it became the world's largest owner and operator of refrigerated rail cars.
The Pacific Fruit Express supported the rise of
irrigated agriculture in the West. Using a "follow the sun" strategy, it
hauled potatoes from the Pacific Northwest in the fall, oranges from California
in the winter, and fruit from the Southwest in the spring. In the peak year
of service, the Pacific Fruit Express carried 465,000 rail car loads of fresh
fruits and vegetables. The Pacific Fruit Express declined in the 1980's due
to the decline in railroad service and competition brought by the deregulation
of the trucking industry.
By 1924, the company has become the Crystal Ice and Fuel Company, reflecting
changing business conditions. The facility had rooms for an ice machine,
a freezing tank, condensers, cold storage and a machine shop. The office
was located in a separate building on the north side of building adjacent
to the triangular concrete platform.
Economic conditions change, and the Crystal Ice and Fuel Company ceased operations
about 1930. By 1951, the Crystal Ice Works facility and buildings were removed
from the north bank of Buffalo Bayou. Only the substructures in the banks
have survived the wrecking ball. Embedded in the clay and overgrown with
vegetation, the concrete skeleton of the foundation of this once-thriving
industrial plant whispers the story of its former prominence.