Robert Mills, Special to Black Mountain News Published 11:20 a.m. ET Nov. 29, 2019
Black Mountain’s downtown is constantly changing. Though their facades mostly remain the same, few, if any, of the town’s historic buildings continue to be used for their original purpose — the town’s first fire house is now a museum, the former Town Hall is an arts center and the brick structure originally built as Black Mountain Ice Company will soon become a restaurant with rooftop dining.
Although many of Black Mountain’s younger residents will find it hard to imagine a business devoted solely to ice, even 75 years ago ice companies like the one in Black Mountain were vital to keeping food fresh. In the early 1900s, ice companies not only delivered large blocks of ice to fill the ice boxes of local residents, but also supported agriculture by storing produce and meat for farmers.
In many towns, the local ice house was centrally located, usually near a train station, allowing farmers to easily transport their produce to larger markets. Black Mountain was no exception.
According to the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the Faulkner Ice Company, incorporated in 1916 by three Asheville men, operated out of a building that stood on the northeast corner of Sutton Avenue, very near the Southern Railway Freight House.
Faulkner Ice Company existed until 1925. The property was sold shortly thereafter to the expanding Black Mountain Lumber Company.
For the next eight years there is no evidence of an ice company operating in town.
Then, in 1933, Cyril E. Huffman and his wife Virginia “Jennie,” along with Cyril’s brother Grover and sister-in-law Estelle, built the brick building on the corner of Broadway and Sutton Avenues and opened Black Mountain Ice Company.
The Huffmans had prior experience in the ice business. Before settling in Black Mountain, the couple had moved from Missouri to operate an ice company in Statesville.
In 1922, Cyril experienced a small level of fame after his automobile journey from Missouri to North Carolina was documented in the Salisbury Evening Post.
What made this feat especially notable was the fact that he had no arms—he had lost them in a railroad accident in Missouri. He operated his car with hook-hand prosthetics.
And, legend has it, the hooks he wore came in particularly useful while selling and delivering ice. While others had to use ice tongs to move the large blocks of ice, Cyril’s prosthetic hooks allowed him to pick up his merchandise without gloves or tongs.
But the ice business was slow during the winter months, so to make ends meet during the off-season, the ice house began selling coal.
Now known as the Black Mountain Ice and Coal Company, the business produced ice using a state-of-the-art electrical system. It was capable of producing up to 72,000 pounds of ice a day.
Cyril Huffman died in December 1944. Jennie ran the business herself until she married Lee Seagle two years later.
Though there does not appear to be coverage of the closure of the ice house in the local papers, the business ceased advertising in Owen High School’s yearbook in 1959. By this time, electric refrigeration had become accessible to almost everyone. At the same time, electric heating had become more popular, thus decreasing the demand for coal.
After the Seagles closed the ice house, the building was adapted for use by a variety of businesses, ranging from Cook’s electrical contracting through the 1980s to the Gingko Tree Gallery, which operated there from 1994 to 2017. Now, the old ice house will transform again.
Robert Mills is a volunteer at the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center.This article was researched using materials from the archives at the museum.