October 29, 2022

Kathy Smith
Contributing Writer

In 1896, Lee’s Summit was the highest shipping point on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The town was booming, even though there was a fire on the west side of the railroad tracks. Lee’s Summit has always been a town of resilient citizens. Buildings were restored and businesses reopened.

It was during this boom that A.J. Hess arrived in Lee’s Summit from Pennsylvania with the hopes of establishing a meat market and a much needed slaughter house.

Lee’s Summit had large stock farms at the time, and it made good sense to establish a business that would butcher cattle and then ship them out on the railroad. Hess and his son L.A. had their own meat market located on SE Main in downtown Lee’s Summit.

Let’s take a look at what materials were the best at the time to build this slaughter house. It made good sense to build with limestone which is native to Missouri and plentiful

Lee’s Summit was fortunate enough to have one of the most important stone masons in the state. W.C. Cooper had built several buildings in the area including Blackwell Storage which now houses an architect on the top floor and retail on the first floor. At one time the rear of the building had been a pasteurization plant, according to noted historian the late Frank Graves. When you look at the building today you can see where part of it had burned in the late forties. The building was rebuilt using bricks to abut the limestone.

Limestone is strong and keeps whatever is inside of it cool. It is safe from fire and tornadoes. It was a symbol of the strength of the city.

By the 1920s the building was purchased by Carl Westerbeck, William S. Barnes, and Otis J. Crandall. It was now The Community Ice House. The business eventually became a corporation registered with the state of Missouri.

What a blessing this business was to the housewives and merchants of Lee’s Summit. The early refrigerators were called ice boxes. They were cabinets made out of oak. Depending on the size there would be either one or two doors. At the bottom of the ice box was a metal pan that held the block of ice. The lady of the house would put a number in the front window of her house and a block of ice would be delivered by horse and wagon. Eventually, the company expanded to having delivery trucks.

The Community Ice Company employed many citizens during its heyday including Bob Belser and his brother Wayne. They are both gone now. They told me many stories about working in the Ice House. They both told me that they liked working there because it was cool inside and because lifting the blocks of ice kept them fit for sports.

The Community Ice Company also had holdings in Lone Jack and Odessa. This business was thriving.

With the advent of the electric refrigerator, ice boxes fell out of favor. The Community Ice House even sold refrigerators manufactured by the Coolator Company. The newer trucks had air conditioning in them as well.

Soon, the noble building that once housed such an important part of our city will be removed to make way for the new Farmers Market Pavilion.

I pay tribute to all who tried to save the Ice House. Unfortunately, the Ice House has been designated as a Place in Peril by Missouri Preservation, a dubious distinction.