Throwback Thursday – Remembering turn-of-the-century manufacturing

As we head into the new year, Throwback Thursday thought it would be fun to remember what life used to be like before the modern conveniences of some of our most common household items—like ice cubes, air conditioning, and indoor heating systems. What was it like to order ice, milk, and coal every week?  

About 120 years ago, the area around the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line in downtown Bowling Green was the hotbed for modern industry and innovation of all types. Around the year 1900, anyone could find factories and storage companies for everything from ice to coal to axe handles. The ease of access from the railroad and river made this home of Bowling Green’s first industries. Today much of the area is considered the St. Joseph historic district.

Just off Boatlanding Road sat the Bowling Green Ice and Coal Storage Company. Residents would order ice and coal that would be delivered weekly or daily to their homes by horse and buggy. Ice could be delivered in 25-pound cubes. Notice the images of the horse-drawn buggies that can be seen under the entrance awning. The photos we found in the Kentucky Library and Museum Special Collections came from the Graham family papers. These ice and coal deliveries would be the norm until the advent of the modern household refrigerator after the Second World War.

The Turner Dye Woolworth Axe Handle Company was on the corner of Clay and Main streets, and operated at the turn of the 20th century. Passersby could often see the piles of hickory lumber at the factory before they were whittled into axe handles. These axes were popular for every home, as you often had to chop your own firewood to burn in your oven or wooden stove before the days of coal burning. 

Other popular industries in Bowling Green around the start of the 20th century were oil and farming related—especially when tobacco was such a popular crop for cigarettes and cigars. The Perkins Brothers’ cigar factory operated out of Bowling Green around this time. Brannon’s’ Tobbaco Company warehouses were major trading spots.

Find out more about the neighborhood at the St. Joseph’s historic district marker.