Bob Mitchell: Ice House pulled its switch and closed its doors

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

{Continued from last week}

In the late 1970s, Cassville was in her greatest growth period with industry going full blast and the City of Seven Valleys actually showing some population increase.

Right along with the bright spot in history was Arthur P. Smith’s First National Bank located on the northeast corner of the square—where it had been almost forever. Smith’s attitude about growth went right along with his business, which was in need of space. His vision of a new banking house put into action the purchase of major property at the Y-Intersection in south Cassville.

Included in the businesses were Irwin Hotel, Baker-Seely Market, a service station, a residence and the Ice House. Immediately, he contracted to have the structures removed, with the exception of the Ice House.

This proved to be a lengthy process. Smith eventually had to assume removal of the famous hotel structure under his own supervision.

There is an unfortunate part of this story as Smith suffered a massive heart attack at his home and died just as the project was to get underway. His widow, Leta, being of the same progressive thought, assumed the presidency of the bank and proceeded with the project.

That structure served the firm through successive owners for years until the present building, now owned by Arvest, was constructed.

Ice House remained

Since it was before the days of refrigeration arriving full blast in Cassville, there was still a need for the Ice House for both residences and commercial customers.

A decision of the banking people was to keep the business open with Johnny Brock, a long-time employee, as the manager. The facility remained in operation a number of months providing block and crushed ice for the community, cold storage for rent and yes—the soft-shell crawfish caught at night by Harold Miller and Jimmy Ketchum.

When it was obvious the antiquated equipment in the Ice House was becoming less available and considerably more expensive, the decision day arrived and the business that had served this community well pulled the switch and closed its doors. (Incidentally, the residence on the property was my birthplace 90 years ago!)

Immediately after the closure, the building at Sixth and East streets, was razed and space converted to employee parking spaces.

By this time, those needing ice in their businesses had seen the “handwriting on the wall” and procured ice-making equipment of their own.

There wasn’t any ‘Johnny Brock’ around anymore to tote those large sacks of crushed ice he had ground from chunks in the Ice House.

No more Irwin Hotel

Ben and Lily Irwin (Nancy Joslin England’s grandparents) were known throughout the region for setting the most fabulous table for Sunday dinner that could be found anywhere.

Loss of the hotel and its large front porch was often a gathering place for traveling salesmen through the area. There were plenty of those types on the road in those days and most of them choose to end their day in Cassville at the Irwin Hotel.

Long before TV invaded the home, radio was a source of entertainment. Irwin Hotel had the largest console model with the best reception in town, often drawing visitors in the evening for a special program. Of primary interest to one group were the national election returns.

The hotel building was stucco and as mentioned before, the porch that ran across the Main Street side had plenty of rocking chairs for the comfort of those either staying the night, several days, or those just dropping by for a visit.

First National building

For a short period of time, the long standing First National building was occupied by a savings and loan firm that had been in Cassville for a short period.

In 1982, Wayne Tomblin, who had arrived here from Oklahoma when he purchased the Kenneth Brown Jewelry business, acquired the building. His daughter, Chloe Epperly, still operates the business.

Tomblin, leaving the original business location of the Frost Building to 600 Main area before the purchase across the square, passed away a few years before the North Side Square fire a few years later.

Dealer squabbles

Barry Electric’s expansion of services many years previously attracted appliance dealers to Cassville, which readily made refrigeration available, eliminating iceboxes forever. Rufus Miller, Oscar Hutton and Johnny Tucker plus Bill Carney’s Golden Rule store filled the need of choice for those in the market for this equipment.

Miller and Carney often conducted spirited claims and advertised them broadly in local publications. As for Hutton and Tucker, they simply conducted their own business in their own way, leaving the controversy to the other appliance dealers. Their squabbles were good for advertising space in the newspapers in those days.

The availability of the three appliance firms, all offering different brands, played its part in the growing economy of the town during this era. In later years, Laverne Thompson and his wife Jean were quite successful in the furniture and appliance business in Cassville

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.