The Ice Man Cometh
The History of the Ice Companies in Bradford
For those used to the convenience of refrigeration, the old days of ice boxes, ice wagons, and delivered ice must seem hopelessly old fashioned. But to the men who made their fortunes "on ice", as it were, those days were filled with excitement as each strove to be Bradford's foremost ice supplier.
One of the earliest icemen was John Sheehy. Born in Limerick, Ireland in 1844, he immigrated in 1868 to the United States to Cleveland, and learned the ice business there. He came to Bradford in 1881, and quickly established his business, the Bennett Brook Ice Company. He was shrewd, aggressive, and knowledgeable, and soon became the primary supplier of ice to the growing city. The company owned six ponds along the Bennett Brook, and controlled the ice which came off Broder's dam on the West Branch of Tuna Creek. Seven ice houses were required to house the vast amounts of ice cut each winter, which amounted to 15,000 tons annually. Six covered vans, each capable of carrying from 3 to 4 tons of ice were constantly in operation during the summer delivery months. A two year supply of ice was always kept on hand to avoid any possibility of an ice "famine". Sheehy hired 25 men each summer as deliverymen; and from 75 to 100 men each winter as ice cutters during the ice harvest season, and paid them well. Later, he changed the name of his company to the Bradford Ice Company.
Competition in the Bradford area for control of the ice business was fierce. As early as 1883, rival companies sprang up. The Tuna Valley Ice owned by D.J. Wilder of Bradford declared itself to own "all the Tuna Valley brook ponds" in the area, while another ice company owned by Harry Boss copied the name Bennett Brook Ice Co, and tried underhandedly to take over all Sheehy's customers as well. An indignant John Sheehy placed a series of public notices in the Bradford Era in May of that year, stating "I wish to state, that by priority, hard work, and purchase, the name Bennett Brook Ice Company, is owned and controlled by me. Those...who receive a circular from the Bennett Brook (Boss) Ice Co., (should know) that I have no interest or control......"
In time, however, Sheehy went into partnership with Harry Boss, and by 1896 the firm of Sheehy & Boss controlled the vast ice empire.
Other, smaller ice companies were also in business. The Maple Grove Ice Company, founded in 1903, owned four ponds, and operated six delivery wagons in the summer. For a time, the American Ice Co. was located on Kennedy Street; and the Silver Lake Ice Co., operated out of 145 Main Street.
John Sheehy died unexpectedly on January 18, 1899, at the age of 55. His widow ran the business for the next several years, followed by his daughter, Mrs. James L. Andrews. By 1919, however, the business changed hands, and became known simply as City Ice. By 1925 it was in different hands again, this time owned by H. Calvin Abbott, and Timothy Sullivan. Under their ownership, the City Ice Company remained in existence after World War II.
Today, the concept of cutting ice from ponds in the winter, storing it all summer long in ice houses, and then delivering it door to door in the summer time is just a cool memory.