Montz’s innovative legacy frozen in time

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 14, 2000

LAPLACE – Armand Montz Sr. did more than put LaPlace on the map – he lefta legacy which spans the globe. Two of his grandsons, cousins Gilbert Maurinand Gerard Montz, are working hard to keep that legacy from being forgotten.

Together, Maurin and Montz are working to salvage what remains of the A.

Montz Ice Plant on Ice Factory Road in LaPlace, where their grandfather was one of the first to successfully process and ship many frozen vegetables, using an ice plant he built. “The frozen foods part interested me the most,”Gerard Montz said.

The Montz family has been in the River Parishes since 1722, one of the first colonial families to settle the German Coast. However, this story is aboutone remarkable descendant of that pioneer family – Armand Montz Sr. – apioneer in his own way.

Montz was born in 1887 in Reserve and soon developed a passion for farming. By 1905 he began growing tomatoes and other vegetables in hisfather’s backyard, but his crops soon overtook that place and he leased a tract in LaPlace. He later purchased a 600-acre tract for his ever-growingoperations, which now extends from West Fifth Street to The Glade School.

“He wanted to control the quality, so he didn’t buy vegetables from others, he grew his own,” Gerard Montz said.

Always an innovator, Montz used the railroad which bisected the tract to get his vegetables to the French Market in New Orleans. Soon, this wasn’tenough.

Shallots were his first major crop, and he developed a hardier breed by growing them partially in North Carolina and Colorado. He quickly expanded tobroccoli, spinach, okra, corn, cauliflower and beans of several varieties.

Shipping was done in rail cars packed with ice. However, the block ice sent tohim from Kenner was half-melted by the time he received it, and shipping his vegetables using block ice was wasteful and inefficient.

That inventive mind went to work and he developed two innovations – powderizing the ice and blowing it into the rail cars made for ice which didn’t melt as quickly and which kept the frozen vegetables fresher longer – and he built his own ice plant.

That ice plant drew water from deep wells he dug north of LaPlace. Soon,those wells supplied water to the town as well. On May 24, 1923, thegenerators of his ice plant began supplying electricity as well, with the Montz power lines extending from as far north as Garyville to as far south as St.

Rose in St. Charles Parish. In 1927 he sold these lines to Louisiana Power andLight but was still able to sell surplus electricity to the utility.

Montz has been recognized as a pioneer in frozen foods and is credited with being the first ever to freeze okra and corn on the cob for commercial purposes.

There was even a short movie made in 1939 about the ice plant and frozen foods operation, produced by Montz’s son, Armand Jr., and titled, “Icing aLouisiana Crop,” shown to distributors across the country.

During World War II, not only did he provide vital employment he also used 352 German prisoners-of-war to help harvest crops. However, competitionfrom larger companies began cutting his business, and he resisted any talk of a merger. He ended his frozen foods business in 1958.Montz himself died in 1968, and the ice plant finally shut down in 1974. Theyears since have not been kind to the plant.

A 1989 fire destroyed much of the main buildings, leaving the rusting hulks of the generators standing on slabs off Ice Factory Road. In 1992 HurricaneAndrew took away more of what remained.

Still, there are an old shallot-drying shed filled with memorabilia of Armand Montz Sr.’s business, including food labels, machinery, a 1947 delivery truck(in a nearby shed), and historical photos of one of St. John the BaptistParish’s true pioneers and his legacy.

Maurin and Montz have found themselves to be custodians of this legacy – from LaPlace’s first electric power and waterworks, to a national mark on the frozen-food industry – and they hope to soon open their mini-museum they’ve developed to let future generations know about it.

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