Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Briola Bros. Ice Co.

The Briola brothers, Frank and Michael, not only owned and operated the first and largest grocery store on Merchant St., they also ran a successful ice-making company for many years.

The Briolas' ice-making business began in 1904 in the Ambridge-Economy Brewery Co. building, once located on 11th St., immediately east of where the Trinity School for Ministry* is now. The 1924 Economy Centennial book, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, said that while the Briolas' ice business was in the brewery building, it could make up to seven tons of ice per day. The brewery went bankrupt in 1913.

The Heinz Co. later bought the former brewery building for making malt vinegar, and perhaps that was the reason the Briolas built, and moved to, a new building for their ice business. Heinz started vinegar production in April 1920, a month after the Briola Bros. Ice Plant on 10th St. and Glenwood Ave. began selling ice.

The Briolas began making making ice for wholesale only in its own plant in March 1920. The Economy Centennial book says that the new ice plant, with seven employees, was "the best equipped ice plant in this section, the capacity being 45 tons daily."

Briola Bros. ice ad
Ambridge Citizen
March 27, 1925

The small print in the ad above says:
For prompt delivery and satisfaction, come to us. We aim to please our customers at all times. 
We handle ice for all occasions, including the cracked ice, which is used for glass refrigerators, ice cream manufacturing and for many other purposes.
Preparations have been made in our plant increasing the capacity which enables us to supply Ambridge, Fair Oaks and Leetsdale.
Ice books on sale at our office, also obtainable from our drivers.
I don't know what "Ice Books" were, other than they obviously let purchasers buy ice at a discount. Anyone know what they looked like and how they worked?

The Ambridge Supply Co. was once at 1st St. and Park Rd., opened by George A. Mytinger in 1910. (Genealogical and Personal History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Volume 1, 1914).

Why am I mentioning the Ambridge Supply Co. and posting a photo showing its horse and wagon below? Because while that may be the Ambridge Supply Co.'s wagon, I believe that the building it's stopped at is the Briola Bros. Ice Plant building. Compare the door and window locations with the later photos of the Briola Ice Co. below.

Ambridge Supply Co. wagon at Briola Bros. Ice Plant
circa early 1920s
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

Thanks to the sign, there's no doubt about the identity of the building in the photo below. The "Belt-Line" mentioned in the information about the building's location was the spur rail line that once ran through Ambridge from French Point, across 14th and 11th Sts., behind the businesses on the east side of the 900 block of Glenwood Ave., and ended at 8th St. Some may remember it as the rail tracks that ran behind the west side of Ambridge High School's football stadium.

Briola Bros. Ice Plant
10th and Glenwood at Belt Line
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

At some point, the name of the business was changed to Briola Ice Co. I don't know when it closed, but the photo below is dated 1958. None of the people in the photo are identified. Do you know who they are?

The people in the photo have been identified by members of the Briola family:

Left to right: Mike Briola, Dick Briola, David Briola, Billy or Bobby Briola, Louise Briola, and Raymond Briola.

Briola Ice Co.
1010 Glenwood Ave.
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

While the Briola Ice Co. may be gone, the building is still there, although it now uses the address 421 10th St. As far as I could tell, it was occupied when I took the photo below in 2014. The current business advertising that it's in the building is Muscles' Gym.

Former Briola Ice Co. building
421 10th St.

Frank Briola was the victim of an attempted "Black Hand" extortion attempt in 1912. Usually, victims were told some harm would come to their businesses if they didn't pay the demanded amount. The May 28, 1912, Daily Times, said that the demand was for $6,000 and plans were arranged for police "to watch for the black-handers...but Biola (sic) failed to carry out his part of the agreement and the plans fell though."

However, there was apparently a second extortion attempt:  A November 16, 1912, Pennsylvania State Police report said:
At the request of U. S. Postal Inspector Craighead, of Pittsburgh, Sergeant McLaughlin and detail, of Troop "A" investigated "black hand" case in which the victim, one Frank Briola, of Ambridge, Pa., was requested to place $3,000 at a designated spot between Ambridge and Beaver Falls. By the use of a decoy package, the detail were successful in apprehending two Italians, Joseph Candilaro and Dominic Fiore.
Both men were tried, Fiore was found guilty, but Candilaro was acquitted.

* Many older Ambridge area residents may remember the main Trinity School building as the A & P, although much renovated.

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