New Albany “Icehouse” lives on in memory

By Angie Barmer

Before there were refrigerators and freezers in people’s homes, people would have to travel to the closest icehouse to purchase blocks of ice or crushed ice. One such icehouse was located in New Albany. Visitors would travel from miles away to see the uniqueness of cars parking in the middle of Main Street in Downtown New Albany as well as to buy ice from the New Albany Home Ice Company, known to regulars as ‘The Icehouse.’

Union County MSU Extension Office Director Stanley Wise remembers traveling to New Albany as a boy with his father. “When I was a young boy in the late ’50s and early ’60s, many times we would travel through New Albany on our way home from church. We would stop by the icehouse in the summertime and dad would buy a big block of ice and they would crush it up for us and put it in a double-bagged paper sack and we would take it home and make homemade ice cream. The icehouse also kept cold watermelons and we would pick one of those up and take one home,” said Wise.

According to Union County Heritage Museum Director Jill Smith, said, “The icehouse was built by Paul Rainey in the early 1900s, probably about the same time he built the Rainey Hotel. The hotel was probably built around 1906 because the icehouse was close enough to supply the needs of the hotel and all its rich and famous guests.”

Paul J. Rainey was a multimillionaire, entrepreneur, adventurer and an important staple in New Albany and Union County. Rainey was responsible for bringing the luxurious Rainey Hotel to New Albany, a bottling works company, a furniture store, and a clothing factory.

According to Smith, The hotel was sold to Rod Beard of New Albany after the hotel burned the first time – around 1915.

The Beard Family owned and operated it until the Stephens Family took over the operation; it closed in the mid 60s. Rod’s grandson Andy Beard currently lives somewhere in Atlanta

Edgar Stephens Sr. ran the icehouse for many years and had his sons Edgar Jr., Carl and Hugh Stephens also work at the store. New Albany resident Anne Stephens, widow of Hugh Stephens, said that her husband Hugh Stephens worked as a salesman there and it was one of his first jobs.

“The Stephens Family sold a lot of ice during WWII. This was before people had refrigerators. They did a tremendous amount of business throughout the summer,” said Stephens.

Wise said, “I used to love to hear them put the block in the crusher and crush it and watch them sack it up. It was always cold and we would go in the room and watch them get the blocks (50 and 100-pound blocks) by the ice tongues and put it in the big ice-crushing bin. The ice crusher made a terrible noise but it was really neat to go there. It was always really neat to go to New Albany because the cars parked in the middle of Main Street and we always thought that was really cool as a kid,” said Wise.

Stephens said, “They made wonderful crushed ice and sold snow cones with fruit juice that tasted so good.”

At the Union County Heritage Museum, there is a small icehouse collection with a set of ice tongs, an ice saw, an ice box.

Smith had heard that when people received home ice delivery, they would put out signs in their yards to let the ice man know how much ice to leave. Stephens agrees, “When they did home delivery, people would put certain colored signs in their yards to tell the ice delivery man how many blocks they needed.”

Even though the icehouse is gone now, the memory still lives on and so does the memory of Paul Rainey, but visitors from all round can still come to New Albany and see the uniqueness of cars parking in the middle of the street.