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Cool history of ice in T&T
Ice is a simple luxury we take for granted. These days one can buy a refrigerator with an LCD screen set in the door. Long ago it was a great indulgence. Wherever there were lakes of clean water in the United States, tons of ice would be harvested and stored in deep, cool cellars known as icehouses, where the chunks were packed in sawdust.
On September 17, 1844, the good brig New England, out of Boston, delivered to DP Cotton, Esq, of Port-of-Spain, 15 tons of lake ice. Mr Cotton had taken premises behind where the present-day old treasury building stands on Abercromby Street, where he constructed a large cold-storage facility with lead-lined walls. He advertised in the Port-of-Spain Gazette: “Ice will be sold at 4 cents per pound in quantities not less than 100 pounds. Families wishing to purchase ice are asked to provide a good woolen blanket to transport the ice. A refrigerator is an indispensable item. Persons wishing to purchase ice on Saturday are asked to present themselves before 10 o’clock.”
Cotton had a hit on his hands. He soon realised that refrigerators were a complementary product to ice, and imported a few on October 1, 1844. These were large boxes made of wood and lined with lead. Water was drained into a pan beneath the icebox, which stood on legs. They cost $15 apiece, which was a good monthly wage for a craftsman in 1844.
Cotton was quick to latch on to new ideas, and in December of the same year, ice cream was enjoyed by Trinidadians for the first time. He also sold chilled foods. The Ice House prospered exceedingly and soon moved to the south-eastern corner of Abercromby Street and Marine (Independence) Square in 1846. Cotton died in 1872 and the succeeding firm of CL Haley expanded to function as the Family Hotel until 1906, when it was taken over by Croney and Co.
The Ice House Hotel boasted 42 rooms, a billiards hall, private sitting rooms for ladies, a bar, a smoking salon and a palm garden. Croney and Co did good business, since theirs was the finest grocery in the land. In 1918, with the advent of electric refrigeration, the importation of lake ice ended with cubes and blocks being produced on site from tap water.
The year 1919 saw Croney and Co selling out to the American firm of RJ McKinney and Co. McKinney drastically expanded the grocery stock and renamed the hostelry the Hotel McKinney and the Palm Garden Restaurant and Buffet. To old Trinis, the place remained the Ice House. In 1933, the emporium was renamed the Fernandez Grocery in the hands of its new owner, Ernest Canning.
When Canning’s Grocery became Hi-Lo in 1950, it was the first cash-and-carry supermarket in the island, and its location was the old Ice House. The historic structure fell into dereliction in the 1960s and was demolished in 1977.
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