Change, not the positive kind, was on the move in Graverville. The swim contests were becoming a thing of the past. The rooflines of the sheds that once sheltered and allowed the bricks to dry, sagged now, like the back of a broken down old mare.
|Wash-day at Graverville - Facing west: Route 443 as it appeared while under construction in the early 1940s.|
The Lehighton-Tamaqua Highway (what we call Route 443 today) came through here in the early 1940s. Steel being in short supply after the outbreak of World War II, the completion of the bridge over the Mahoning Creek at Graverville was stalled until 1946. The roadway split the ice, pool, and skating facilities from the bungalows of the hillside.
The roadway was an achievement for commerce in the area. It allowed for more avenues for transport, a boon for the local garment industries, spawning the Interstate Dress Carriers trucking terminal, now NEMF.
|Henry Graver residence of 105 East Penn Street. The homes at right with the square roof supports were torn down|
in the past few years.
It also built up Lehighton’s suburban commerce with the Carbon Plaza Mall, Pizza Como, McDonald’s, and eventually Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.
The roadway delivered promise to many, but all such promises seemed to pass the Graver’s right on by.
|The entrance to the Graver Ice Plant with their 1940s era pickup truck.|
Larry Graver was still in high school when he worked at Graver’s Ice Plant. In the spring and fall, he’d prepare and work maintenance on the pool as well. Larry also lived in Graverville with his parents Francis and Ruth (Hallman) Graver. His father Francis was one of three sons born to Ralph Graver, Henry Graver’s only child to produce off-spring.
Larry’s cousin, Stanley Graver, was living in his great grandfather Henry’s house with his parents Reuben “Rubie” and Iris Graver at 105 East Penn Street.
Francis and Reuben were two of Ralph Graver’s three sons. The third and youngest was Ralph Jr., otherwise known as “Jack.”
|The skating rink as it appeared shortly before it's demolition|
in the early 1990s.
There was little left for Larry and Stanley to get involved with in those days. The building boom of their uncles and grandfathers was over. Refrigerators replaced the daily need for commercially produced ice. And people were traveling farther for their entertainment, to points along the Jersey Shore and beyond.
The beginning of the end was the closing of the skating rink in the late 1950s. At about that same time, the borough of Lehighton had begun to manage the Graver pool in the summer but closed it in 1961. Lehighton opened a more modern municipal pool at Baer Memorial in 1965.
|A local paper article from the late 1950s.|
The following description of the plant’s operation comes from a December 2014 interview with Larry Graver:
“The ice plant room was about twenty by forty feet. There were sixty-four, two foot by two foot squares that could each make 48” by 24” by 10” pieces of ice.
There was copper tubing into each section filled with a brine solution, the high salt content gave the refrigerant a colder than thirty-two degree freezing temperature to speed up the icing process.
The brass or copper tubing went into each section and bubbled air into the water to keep it moving. This is what gave the ice of this time its signature white color.”
“Pulling Ice” – “We would work the odd rows first, and once finished, we’d repeat the process on the even rows. This helped keep the ice you were working with as cold as possible.
A rolling crane picked up the form with the ice inside it where it was dipped into a solution of warm water to free it from the form. The block was tilted and left to slide on a chute to the other side of the ice house for storage.
At no point during this process did the fresh water in the ice mix with the brine solution. There was a deep, fresh water well on site where the water was drawn. The ice produced here was potable.
There was a large diesel engine that powered the entire operation. It was said that you could hear and feel the mighty thump of this engine as you passed in your vehicle on Route 443.
(The ice storage house would be beneath the current pile of the shale parking lot used by truck and trailers along Route 443 across from Pizza Hut.)
This ran a three-phase generator and had up to ten V-belts taken off of the power shaft that ran the compressors. In order to start such an engine and set the large piston in motion, one had to set the eight-foot flywheel by lining it up a special mark on it with its corresponding marking on the floor.
The ice plant was run by Henry’s sons Ralph and Stanley. Stanley was a bit more difficult to work for. He was known for firing workers at the ice plant and by the time they reached Ralph on the other side of the property, they would be re-hired.
Stanley passed away in 1958 and Ralph followed him in 1965.
So the cousins, who worked the last years of these Graver enterprises, had to look to make their own mark in the business world.
Larry teamed up with Phil Meyers and created Blue Mountain Machine. Though he has since retired and sold his interest, Blue Mountain Machine still operates at 725 State Road (Route 248) but got its start inside the old skating rink on the Graver property.
In the late 1960s, Stanley Graver branched out to Route 209 near the Turnpike interchange and built “Stan Graver’s Texaco” which is now operated by his three sons, Ricky, Allen and Kerry as “Graver Brothers.”
The real estate holdings of the Graver family, the numerous bungalows that still dot the hillside, were appraised in April of 1989. Then, one by one, each was sold to either their current inhabitants or to other private families.
Gone within the last few years, a sign at the traffic light, that told passing motorists of the now bygone hamlet of “Graverville.” Its name still adorns some maps and now and then this now almost mythical place draws a pilgrim to it.
One such seeker, finding nothing to prove or deny its existence, was resourceful enough to find “Graver Brother’s Garage.” Once there he found the great, great, great grandsons of Lewis Graver.
Considering that Lewis first timbered the hemlocks of the north facing slope of the former Moravian mission back in 1825, all one hundred fifty plus years before the ice factory's end, I’d say it was a good run, a good run indeed.