Henry County Siftings
T. Larry Smith
Vol. 13, No. 6
Headland Cold Storage and Ice Plant History
The exact time that ice appeared on the scene in Henry County and in Headland is not known at the present time. Apparently, ice was being sold in Henry County by 1873 when James D. Freeman and Dr. James Gillespie of Abbeville received a U. S. Patent for their invention of an improvement in Ice-Shaving Machines, for an attachment to the counter in soda water and other saloons for shaving or crushing ice chunks for drinking glasses. Ice in some form was perhaps being sold in Headland in the 1880’s when the town had several saloons. No doubt that ice was being hauled into Headland by way of railroad train cars packed with saw dust in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after the railroad came thru. At this time, the earliest known soft drink and ice sales business that operated in Headland prior to 1910 was the Ward’s Stand that stood opposite of Herring’s Livery Stable. J. M. Quinn later moved his soft drink & ice stand into the former Ward stand on June 10, 1910.
The Ex-Cel-O Bottling & Ice Works Company became the first bottling and ice facility to be in business in Headland in 1910, this business was first located on the public square. Ice was brought in by train and stored in sawdust. The company soon opened the first bottling & ice plant in Headland in 1911 located behind the present Espy Mercantile Warehouse on Broad Street along the railroad and west of the old Headland water and electric plant site. Ice continued to be brought in by train to this plant. This company was managed by J. M. Quinn; the company bottled Chero-Cola in a large new building next to the new Headland Water Works. All of the owners at that time are presently unknown. A few Chero -Cola bottles from this old plant remain today. Mr. H. M. White also operated an early drink and ice stand in Headland which he sold to the father of J.M. Quinn in 1920. Mr. Thomas (Tom) Henry McGriff of Columbia, Alabama came to Headland in the 1920’s. Tom McGriff became the next person to operate the Ex-Cel-O facility which experienced damaging fires several times over the years. This facility did not produce its own ice in the beginning. Tom McGriff first received blocks of ice weighing 300 pounds each delivered in railroad cars with the ice packed in sawdust to his bottling & ice plant where the ice was kept cold in a sawdust room. In 1928, Tom McGriff incorporated the plant as the Nehi Storage & Ice Company; he then bottled and sold the Nehi brand of several carbonated beverages along with ice. Tom McGriff was the principal stocker, with the other stockholders being, Espy Mercantile Company, T. H. McGriff, Jr., D. M. McGriff, J. J. Espy, Major W. Espy and J. J. Espy, Jr. Mr. Tom McGriff visited an Apalachicola, Florida inventor of a new ice making machine which he then installed in his Headland bottling plant. He then produced his own 300 pound blocks of ice in his plant and included a cold storage facility; The Nehi Storage & Ice Company became Headland’s very first known ice manufacturing plant. This ice plant served a large area with ice including Newville, Tumbleton and south Henry County. Mr. J. E. Pruitt worked with Mr. Tom McGriff for a time until Mr. McGriff committed suicide in 1932. Mr. Tom was the grandfather of Mr. Don McGriff presently of Headland. Mr. Pruitt then removed to Florala, Alabama where he opened an ice plant.
The next operators of a Headland ice plant were J. J. Espy, Jr. (Bud John), W.A. Douglas, Walter E. Gamble and R. A. Weeks. This business incorporated as Headland Ice Company in 1933, and stood where the later Murloy Mullins Feed Mill stood on West Church Street. The Headland Ice Company dissolved in 1935. The next ice plant operators in Headland again included Mr. J. E. Pruitt, who had first operated the former Headland Ice Company, along with V. C. Lokey and A. L. Miller. In 1936, Mr. Pruitt bought out his two partners and operated the plant as Pruitt Ice & Cold Storage until the business closed in the Fall of 1940. Three months later, Mr. William (Bill) Claude Rivenbark of Columbia took over the contracts of Mr. Pruett’s Ice & Storage Co., and leased the plant in late 1940 with plans by Mr. Pruitt to reopen the plant. On early Sunday morning of December 22, 1940, the Pruitt Ice & Cold Storage Co. plant burned, with Mr. Pruitt deciding not to rebuild.
William (Bill) Claude Rivenbark and wife, Martha Twitty Rivenbark, had purchased the vacant lot at the corner of Cleveland Street and Grove Street in Headland from Alice Oates Smith and husband Charles H. Smith; and from W. L. Davis and wife, Zelma Davis in April of 1940. Mr. and Mrs. Rivenbark then deeded a half interest to a Mr. M. L. Oakley and wife, Viola H. Oakley on May 18, 1940, who became silent partners in the Rivenbark venture. On Tuesday June 25, 1941, the new Rivenbark Ice & Cold Storage Company began operations in the unfinished plant. The building was soon completed and became fully operational. This was Headland’s finest cold storage, and ice manufacturing plant, which included slaughtering and smoke house facilities and cold storage lockers. The attached image depicts the first newspaper ad announcing the new Rivenbark Ice & Cold Storage Plant. This period saw several small independent ice truckers who had ice routes, delivering ice to homes throughout the surrounding rural areas which were heavily populated with tenant farmers. On Dec. 31, 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Rivenbark sold their half interest in the Rivenbark Ice & Cold Storage to Viola Oakley and M. L. Oakley. Mr. Rivenbark then focused his attention to his large land and agricultural interest near Columbia.
The Oakley’s then sold the plant to Mr. H. Wayne Laye and his brother-in-law, H. E. Rowland, on Feb. 18, 1952. The plant then became the Headland Ice & Cold Storage Company. This company also sold propane gas, gasoline and oil products as an independent oil distributor as Slocomb Oil Co. The exact date the Headland Ice & Cold Storage plant ceased to produce ice is not presently known, however, this ended Headland’s ice making era as modern home refrigeration closed down ice plants. Mr. Laye sold the old ice plant property and the Slocomb Oil Co. facilities to Mr. Edwin M. (Butch) Glover in Jan. of 1987, who returned to Headland after working with a large oil company. Mr. Glover then operated in the old ice plant building as Headland Oil & Gas Co. as an independent oil and gas dealer. Mr. Butch Glover sold the old ice plant structure and business to Davis Oil Company in Nov. of 1998. Davis Oil sold the old ice plant property in 1999 to Thomas E. Culpepper, who converted the old ice plant into a laundry and dry cleaning business. Southland Bank next became the owner of the old ice plant property and sold to Harvey C. Parrish in 2005, who then sold to the present owners of the property, Mr. Levi Greer and wife Misty Greer, of Dale County, Alabama in 2007.
The Greer’s have improved the property by turning the rear of the building into a separate town house dwelling. The front portion of the building has been renovated into a commercial retail development called The Old Ice House Shoppes & Suites. A nice antique store is now located in the complex. Modern household refrigeration and ice making refrigerators and freezers eventually led to the closure of many ice plants in Wiregrass Alabama. The few ice plants that remain are engaged in the manufacture, selling and delivery of packaged ice to retail stores outlets. Ice Plants once represented a major financial economic development across this country for decades.
- More Anon!