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Daylight in the Night Sky
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2024-04-16

            Over the past two decades I've shared information on the ice industry of the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  This time I want to focus on the circumstances surrounding the demise of the icehouse in Palm.

Originally built in 1897, and rebuilt after a fire in 1912, the Palm iceh-

ouse of the American Ice Company was located next to a pond created

by a dam built along the Hosensack Creek in Upper Hanover Township.

  The icehouse was 311-ft. long, 90-ft. wide and 42 ft. high.

            In the days before 911 and emergency radio communications it must have been a horrific experience to see a fire begin and grow to proportions beyond belief knowing that help is much more than a phone call away.

            It was Monday, July 17, 1922, when a thunderstorm went through the area around 6 p.m. sending bolts of lightning dangerously to the earth.  One of them is believed to have struck the Palm icehouse of the American Ice Company of Philadelphia.  

            The icehouse was located next to a pond created by a dam built along the

The icehouse was located next to a pond created by an earthen

and log dam built along the Hosensack Creek in Upper Han-

over Township. Located near water and next to the railroad

was a perfect location for the business.

Hosensack Creek in Upper Hanover Township.  It was built in 1897 by the Hancock Ice Company which eventually sold the 311-ft. long, 90-ft. wide and 42 ft. high building to the American Ice Company.  The property also included an adjoining building that housed a steam engine used to power the business.   A tool house stood about 100 feet from the main building.  The facility employed about 150 workers during the winter months and provided year-round employment for 14.

            There was no electricity or refrigeration in the building.  The ice was kept frozen inside the large wooden structure loaded with plenty of sawdust insulation and straw to separate the ice blocks and keep them from freezing into one giant cube.

            Located near water and next to the railroad was a perfect location for the business.

            On that Monday night, the brunt of the storm rested over the village of Palm.  Trees were uprooted and other minor damage resulted there.

            A bolt of lightning was suspected of striking the building and started a small

The fire was believed to have been started when a bolt of l

ightning struck the building.

fire in the northeast corner of the building's interior.

            Two-and-a-half hours after the storm passed through, Mrs. Philip Grubb, who resided on the farm immediately across the dam from the icehouse, saw flames coming from the corner of the structure.  She contacted Edwin Gery, superintendent of the icehouse, who lived next door.

            Today, the two closest fire companies are the East Greenville Fire Company and the Hereford Fire Company.  In 1922 the volunteers of East Greenville were still a few months away from obtaining their first motorized firetruck and Hereford was more than 50 years away from being formed.

            After calling the Pennsburg Fire Company Gery, along with neighbors William and Edwin Stauffer, jumped into a boat and rowed across the dam to the scene of the fire.  While approaching the shore they saw the flames rapidly spreading across the roof towards the southeast side of the building.  The four large ice storage rooms at that side of the building were empty and the fire quickly engulfed the entire building.

            Volunteer firefighters arrived and realized the icehouse was lost and focused their attention on the side of the dam where other homes and barns could be in danger.  The leftover breeze from the storm sent burning embers across the dam that were a constant threat as the intense blaze consumed the icehouse.

About 10,000 tons of ice were destroyed in the icehouse.  The

ice was stored in the building since winter and was scheduled

to begin shipping to Philadelphia in the middle of July.

            The glow of the inferno could be seen for miles around causing quite a stir.  In Green Lane, firefighters saw the glow and believed a fire was burning out of control in the Hoppenville area.  After arriving there and realizing where the fire actually was, they responded to Palm and were stationed to protect another area farm.

            The fiery glow in the sky could be seen from far distances in Berks, Bucks, and Lehigh counties.  In Spring City, through a false report, firefighters were told the blaze was in Fagleysville, Montgomery County.  Upon arrival, they were told the fire was in Palm and they turned around and went home.

            A report in the Town and Country noted that the fire drew one of the largest crowds of persons and automobiles to gather in the area.  Gravel Pike in Palm was jammed with parked cars, some needing to be lifted and pushed off the road and into fields to allow traffic to flow.  Some minor fender-benders were reported during the event.

            While there was no hope of saving the icehouse, about 25 volunteers formed a bucket brigade and worked for three hours to save the tool shed and all its contents.

            The capacity of the icehouse was 18,000 tons of ice.  About 10,000 tons of ice were destroyed in the building at the time of the fire.  Shipping of the ice to Philadelphia was scheduled to begin in a week or two.

            It was another nail in the coffin of the ice industry in the region.


 

 

 

 

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