Touring Texoma: People's Ice House

For the first time in his on- going series, Touring Texoma.. Darrell Franklin's staying in Wichita Falls.

This week, he's taking us way back around the 1920's, when the building was built on Indiana that houses "Backdoor Theater".

It was a much simpler time in those days before the Depression.

And, it was a very interesting time as well.

The oil boom was underway, streetcars were running in Wichita Falls, and ice was even delivered daily, right up to front doors... from The People's Ice House.

Jim Pettyjohn/Wichita Falls Resident: "I knew everybody on the street.. knew all the firemen.. knew all the policemen.. and people were friendly. It was a great place to live, and it still is."

Jim Pettyjohn's lessons on the history of Wichita Falls began early on in his life, while growing up downtown.

In fact, much of what he knows he experienced first hand.

Pettyjohn: "It looks just like it did back in the heyday. This was Otto's? Spring supply. You asked me about horseshoes.. there was right across the street over here, a plow company that worked on horses, horseshoes and invented plows."

And, right here sat The People's Ice House, which bought the property on April 7th, 1919.

Gail Smith/Executive Director Backdoor Theater: "This is the warranty deed from J.S. Bridwell to The People's Ice House... 8500 dollars paid and secured."

Gail smith's a self- described 'absolute history buff', especially when it comes to this building.

Smith: "The building was built in the late teens.. People's Ice House. And, in the '20's, there was a flood in this area. So, they raised the street level of this whole area. So, actually inside you can see where the original street level was which is another 4- or 5- feet lower than the street level it is now."

In fact, Gail says that's how far down they'd dug about a year ago while building a ramp, when they found this horseshoe.

Smith: "You can just feel it. You can just feel the history. We're famous for thinking we have ghosts in here." "This is the one where back in the back of that is where we found the cigarette wrappers and everything for the ghost we have in here."

"There's a lot of stuff going on in that building."

Including constant reconstruction on this, the main stage, or to the dinner stage.

There's also new construction often, inside and all around this historic building.

Smith: "It's a pretty good building. We are not really worried about anything falling apart. Yes, there are a few bricks falling out. But, I'm telling you, there are places you can see exactly how thick those walls are. They're triple brick thick so it keeps it inside."

Reporter: "And, besides all that brick, cork that actually covered the brick was a huge part of the insulation here. Now, down here on the main stage, the floor actually sits about 15- feet higher than the original floor. And, you can just imagine a huge crane moving huge blocks of ice in here. About what would have been 75- feet up, the original pulley system is still there. You can imagine that.. that pulley moving the ice inside this building wherever it needed to be stored."

Pettyjohn: "They had a crane up on top, and they'd lift it, the metal canister off the ice after it froze, and they'd work that. That ice block, probably 600 pounds, and they'd chip it up into smaller pieces."

And, then they'd deliver the ice by horse and wagon from house to house.

Pettyjohn: "The ice companies gave you a card, and had 25, 50 on it, 75, and 100. And, you'd put it in the window and turn it up to what you wanted. If it was 50 pounds, they'd bring you 50 pounds. If it was 25, they'd bring you 25."

Pettyjohn: "The wagons all had nice horses with them. And, they had long reigns to an ice wagon so they could drive them from the back. And, lots of time, some of the men weren't too friendly. They would pop us with the reigns off the ice wagon." "They would what?" "Pop us with the reigns, they were long, they could pop them. You'd be ducking some of the ice men. Haha..."

Fond memories for sure.. for those like Jim who remember those good 'ol days... a fascinating piece of Wichita Falls history for the rest of us.

Backdoor Theater moved into its current location in 1976.

And, it's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

If you'd like to see the building for yourself, and catch one of the many plays there.... just call 940-322-5000 for more information.

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