A Forsyth developer is converting the city’s historic ice plant into a thriving boutique hotel, restaurant and event space in the heart of downtown.

George Emami, owner of The Brokery, has purchased the sprawling 15,500-square-foot former ice and yarn plant from Trio Manufacturing with plans to create a trendy, retro gathering place on half a block at the corner of Adams and Kimbell streets.

Emami said he wants to create something like the popular Society Garden in Ingleside Village in Macon, which describes itself as a “casually cool setting to mingle with friends and neighbors”.

To do that, Emami is investing more than $650,000 to convert the historic space to something attractive and appealing complete with space for a small boutique hotel and a restaurant. Emami’s brother-in-law, Forsyth native Justin Cox, will help him with operations and they’re talking to potential tenants or partners about locating in what they’re tentatively calling The Lounge at The Ice House.

Macon architect Paul Rogers Co. has already created plans with space for a boutique hotel with 14 rooms, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a coffee bar, a bar and meeting space. Emami will take his plans to the city’s design and review board and hopes to begin the renovation project soon. The Brokery office is adjacent to the ice house property and Emami has also bought the adjacent lot, formerly part of the mill village, for parking.

Local historian Ralph Bass notes that it was more than 120 years ago that city leaders began talking about building an ice house right after the city first got electricity and running in 1897.

“A number of capitalists in Forsyth,” the Macon Telegraph reported in January of that year, “discussed the possibility of constructing an ice factory. The probability is that plans will materialize soon.”

But soon was a relative term in little Forsyth in the late 19th century. Twenty-one years later, the Monroe Advertiser reported on Aug. 23, 1918 that Forsyth’s city council planned to open an ice plant before the summer of 1919.

“By carrying out these plans Forsyth will be abreast of the times and every section of the county will be certain of an adequate supply of ice at a reduced price,” declared the newspaper.

A Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map confirms that local businessmen Horace and Howell Newton, owners of Trio Manufacturing, built the ice house for Forsyth Ice Company between 1918 and 1920.

Horace Newton’s grandson explained they made ice then by pouring filtered water into long, rectangular sleeves and infusing it with air. Then the sleeves were put into a cold brine tank for freezing. Later they removed the ice and sold it either in large blocks or as crushed ice.

The late Supreme Court chief justice Harold Clarke recalled as a young boy his mother would run out of their North Lee Street home to the location on Kimbell Street for ice. 

“I watched huge slabs of ice come sailing down the chute on their edge,” wrote Clarke. “Ice came out about a foot wide, three feet high, and four feet long. As soon as it hit the old tire-padded timber at the bottom of the chute, one of the workers grabbed it with tongs  and attacked it with an ice pick. Quickly he broke it into virtually exact sizes and shapes before slinging it into the frozen storage rooms. I always wondered at the sight. How could anybody do that with an ice pick?”

Clarke also recalled his mother buying green coupons from the ice house that she would leave on top of the ice box on the back porch for deliverymen like Howard Wynn when they brought blocks of ice to the home. The deliverymen would always ring their bell on their way in case anyone forgot to put out their coupons. Clarke recalled that Wynn could chip off a long sliver of ice the shape of an ice cream cone to give him when he was a boy. 

Bass noted that just as the ice house was a sign of progress in Forsyth, so was it’s demise. As Forsyth’s middle class increasingly bought refrigerators with ice makers, the demand for ice blocks waned until eventually the ice house closed. But now it rises again, only this time not to cool down Forsyth, but instead hopefully to heat up the historic downtown as a growing attraction for visitors and locals.