Texas Primer: The Icehouse

In the beginning there was ice. Lone Star beer, gasoline, and Blue Bell came later.

Here’s a simple test to find out if your friends and acquaintances are telling you the truth about where they’re from. Ask them to name the small neighborhood or roadside business where you can buy a few staple foodstuffs, beer, cigarettes, disposable lighters, and gimme caps. The person who was born in Dallas or Austin or, God forbid, out of state will tell you that the place you’re describing is a 7-Eleven or, if he is more conceptually minded, a convenience store. The dyed-in-the-wool San Antonian and the old-time Houston resident will respond that what you are talking about is an icehouse.

This linguistic curiosity reflects more than just regionalism; it reveals something about the history of running out for a loaf of bread. Up until the forties, refrigerators were outnumbered by iceboxes in rural Texas. An icebox needs ice, and small communities in Texas had places where people could go pick it up. Now, imagine that you own one of those little ice stores. A significant part of your establishment is nice and cold all the time. What if you bought some beer from the wholesaler in San Antonio and kept it on ice? Well, then your ice customers just might want to buy a cold beer when they stop in. And if you could get the creamery to drop off a case or two of milk each morning, maybe some butter too, then your customers wouldn’t have to go all the way down to the highway for those things. Before you know it, the route driver from the bakery up in Austin gives you a wire rack for bread and cakes and starts delivering twice a week. There you have it. When the network of rural electric cooperatives sprang up in the forties and people bought Frigidaires, the guy who had been selling mostly ice in his store starting


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