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Hamlet: Once a Cold Spot for the South

The picture above is of the abandoned warehouse of the Hamlet Ice Company beside railroad tracks at the North Yard.
RC Historical Society

 

BRRRRR!

At one time, Hamlet had one of the largest cold spots in the South, all year round. It originated chills not only in the area, but up and down the east coast.

It was an underground operation that exported cold for profit. It was all about the preservation of flesh, both animal and plant. It was unmatched in the area for some 45 years before engineering progress caused its downfall.

The Hamlet News-Messenger on July 30, 1924, headlined that “Hamlet has one of the largest re-icing plants in the South.”

In the beginning in 1924, Hamlet Ice Company could produce 100 tons of ice every 24 hours in 300-pound “cakes” in the freezing room and could store 5,000 tons of it in the warehouse.

By 1932, the business grew to produce 140 tons of ice daily and could store 12,000 tons in a massive warehouse on U.S. 177 north of Hamlet on a double siding north of North Yard (now Dobbins Heights area). It used 60,000 gallons of water a day from its private water wells.

Production was done underground beneath the floor of the warehouse in tanks of submerged brine through which ammonia was piped to cool water into the 300-pound “cakes” within 1,400 individual metal molds. Water was frozen in the molds for 56 hours.

The warehouse could hold ice at 26 degrees Fahrenheit with its cork walls imported from Spain and special cement imported from China.

The railroad loading platform was a half mile long for the refrigerated rail cars. Ice was ferried to the cars on a conveyor belt powered by a 2,000-foot chain.

Hamlet Ice Company was the largest supplier of ice for rail cars between Florence, S.C., and Raleigh to preserve produce being shipped in cooled rail cars northward.

At its peak, the company was producing 4,500 of the 300-pound cakes a day (675 tons) for the Seboard Airline Railroad. One day it loaded 375 tons of ice on just one train. It had the capacity to load 150 railroad cars a day.

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When the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and Seaboard Railroad merged, trains began to re-ice in Florence rather than Hamlet.

The Hamlet operation enhanced the growth of the production of peaches in the Sandhills area which could be shipped to the north.

By 1968 and because of the loss of re-icing in Florence, the plant was relying on poultry to improve its bottom line and had boosted poultry production.

With produce re-icing, the plant was able to use a quality of water called “dirty ice.” But with poultry it had to provide “clean ice,” or more purified ice for shipping.

When mechanized self-cooling rail cars and trucks were being used, the business in Hamlet was cut 10 percent.

During November 1969, the plant closed without notice. In a Richmond County Daily Journal newspaper article in April 1970, Bert Unger wrote that the “company has quietly melted into oblivion.”

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