New York City, NY

Ghost Signs of NYC: JM Horton Ice Cream

Frank Mastropolo

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302 Columbus AvenueFrank Mastropolo

New York's upscale Columbus Avenue is lined with yogurt, gelato and traditional ice cream shops that cool off sweltering Upper West Siders; O O Wonder, Venchi and Van Leeuwen are some of the fancier outposts. A "ghost sign" — advertising a product or business that has long vanished — remains of a pioneer in the ice cream sweepstakes.

James Madison Horton founded J. M. Horton Ice Cream in 1870. By 1916, Horton supplied more than half of the city’s ice cream, producing more than three million gallons of the dessert each year. Horton operated six stores in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn. Its ads called the company the “largest manufacturers of ice cream in the world.”

The Horton store on the Upper West Side opened in 1890. Its triangular pediment high above the street displays the company name.

“Most building construction on Columbus Avenue followed the arrival of the Ninth Avenue el in 1881,” notes the New York Times, “and the fancy pediments on many former factory buildings were originally intended as rooftop advertisements, to be seen by riders on the trains passing overhead but all but invisible from the sidewalk below.”

“At the turn of the 19th century, when the building at 302 Columbus was erected, the Horton company was supplying over half of New York City’s ice cream, but like other small local producers it was ultimately unable to compete with larger, more mechanized operations. By 1930 it was absorbed by the Pioneer Ice Cream Division of Borden.”

Mastropolo is the author of Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York’s Past and Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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