When it opens later this year, the renovated Waynesboro Ice Plant will be devoted to a commodity largely taken for granted.
"Before the plant was built, ice was shipped by rail," said City Manager Jerry Coalson. "They had giant blocks, insulated in sawdust to keep it from melting."
As the use of compressed ammonia refrigeration spread in the early 1900s, most households added "iceboxes," and cities that once imported ice from northern lakes began to make their own.
Waynesboro's plant opened in 1905 near the railroad tracks and quickly became one of the city's most important facilities, operating until the early 1970s.
By then, its equipment was obsolete and ice was no longer in mass demand. The building languished and crumbled, and in 2000 the city took bids for its demolition.
"Fortunately, all the bids came in too high," Coalson said. "The building was not torn down."
Plans for the site's resurrection began in 2005, when a series of Transportation Enhancement Act grants were awarded to help transform the building into a $1.1 million museum and visitors center with offices, meeting space and educational facilities.
With the help of architects from Athens, Ga., planning firm Armentrout Matheny Thurmond, the plant has been remodeled to offer visitors a glimpse into the city's industrial past.
"When it was open, you could come to the window and buy ice -- blocks, shaved, any way you wanted," Coalson said. "There was a big porch where people waited in line to pay."
During the renovation, almost $100 in coins dating back nearly a century was found beneath the wooden boards.
Inside, there are new floors, modern restrooms and pendant lights. There are also vintage photos tracing the site's history and significance.
Original equipment includes a traveling bridge crane along one ceiling and a diesel engine, forged in 1933, that provided mechanical power for icemaking and generated electricity for streetlights.
"They also found a trove of antique tools and railroad parts to display," Coalson said.
Besides offering exhibits and meeting space, the historic building is also designed to become a trail head for a greenway the city is planning in the near future.
The 7,000-square-foot plant is almost ready for a ribbon-cutting, Coalson said. "We should have a date sometime soon."