February 3, 1998
The Diamond Ice Plant was not the first of its kind here when it opened in February 1938, but it was a few steps ahead of its predecessors. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the ice house at the Perry Mill (home of Pride of Perry flour) provided a delivery service of ice to homes and businesses throughout the city by horse-drawn wagons.
The Perry Mill was sold to General Mills in the 1930s and it was soon shut down. Before Diamond Ice appeared on the scene, Tom Potts came here to build and operate a business he called the New Perry Ice Co. in a one-story building at 514 Delaware, across the street from Donaldson-Yahn Lumber Co. where Ruble-Vance Motor Co. is now located. The New Perry Ice Co. did not have frozen food lockers at first but added them after Diamond Ice introduced the feature here. Mr. Potts, who also was a licensed embalmer, later purchased the Davis & Son Funeral Home on Sixth street, whereupon he closed the ice plant. After World War II, he sold the funeral home to Bill Parker.
Glenn Yahn, retired Perry lumberman, watched construction of the New Perry Ice Co. from his office across the street. He remembers that the Diamond Ice Plant was opened at Seventh and Flynn streets not too long after Mr. Potts started his ice business. "People wondered if both could exist in a town this size," he says. "Diamond Ice was bigger and offered storage lockers, which Tom Potts did not have at that time. Both businesses were still operating in 1940, but soon after that Tom closed or sold his business and became an undertaker by buying Davis & Son Funeral Home."
Among the first employees hired by Clarence Page, co-owner of the Diamond Ice Plant, was John Divine, Perry high school wrestling coach and science teacher who later became senior high principal. Most teachers needed summer jobs in those days, and Coach Divine was hired for that period between school terms. He had worked in the office at the old Perry Mill. Two others from the Perry Mill, Charles Schaefer and Don Lumbers, also moved over to the Diamond Ice Plant. Betty Andrews, Mr. Schaefer's daughter, remembers that he was plant manager from the time of the opening until the business was closed, and Mr. Lumbers was plant operator. Joe Lumbers, his son, also was a deliveryman. All of them were big, broad-shouldered men capable of wrestling 100-pound chunks of ice easily. E. B. Dye, who had experience in the ice manufacturing and storage business, was another plant operator. Mr. Page outfitted all of them in gray uniforms with military-style caps and the company's logo stitched over the left shirt pocket.
At the gala grand opening, Mr. Page said: "We see in the city of Perry a trading center that presents a bright outlook for the coming years. We believe in the city and we believe in the business." His faith and confidence were well-founded. The Perry area provided a good marketplace for his product, ice, and services, food lockers. The business did well here until the time came when virtually every home had an electric (or gas) refrigerator and a deep freeze. Then ice houses went out of fashion, and the Diamond Ice Plant was forced to close.
The Diamond Ice Plant was located on the lower floor of a sturdy-looking two-story building. The second floor, reached by a long, steep metal stairway attached to the exterior north side wall, was the home of the Perry Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Rebekah lodge. In an earlier life, the building had been the home of the John Young Implement Co. Some years later the IOOF and Rebekahs built a new lodge hall in the 1100 block on Cedar street and the Diamond Ice Plant's upstairs became the home of Perry's Teen Town, then sponsored by the Rotary club. In time, floorboards in the second story developed a decided swaying motion when teens and their adult sponsors walked or danced on them, and the upper story was deemed unsafe for occupancy. The upper level was closed, Teen Town moved to a downstairs location on the square, and the old ice plant building was demolished by professional wreckers in 1973 shortly after the entire south wall crumbled. By then the Diamond Ice Plant was long gone, and the property eventually became the location of the new NAPA Auto Parts Store, which is still there.
The Diamond Ice Plant served a definite need in its day, and that included employment of several local breadwinners, but it also introduced us to the convenience of frozen food storage. Plus, it gave this community a joyful foretaste of better economic times. We've come a long way since then, but part of today's essentials, which we take for granted, had their beginning from just such roots.