Jean Batiste La Coste, born in 1823 in Gascony, France, came to New Orleans in 1848, then on to San Antonio. In 1852, when he married Manuela Menchaca, his father-in-law was José Antonio Menchaca, veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto and longtime San Antonio political activist.
In 1868, La Coste established the city’s first ice factory on the east bank of the San Antonio River. The San Antonio Ice Company on Losoya Street boiled the water to make it denser so it would freeze more quickly. At times, he could produce 30 tons of ice daily, and he had customers throughout the state. La Coste also led the way in developing the city’s first public water supply system in 1877. They built pump houses, but couldn’t get many people interested in piped-in water. George W. Brackenridge took over the water works in 1883, but it was years before the system was fully used.
La Coste was described somewhat cryptically in an article about San Antonio’s “leading capitalists” in the San Antonio Light on September 28, 1886: “J. B. La Coste, ice manufacturer; estimated wealth: $200,000. Not assessed largely in city; wealth consists largely of real estate; every dollar of it acquired; started on nothing; owns valuable mining interests and 200,000 acres of land in Mexico; native of France; is a silver man; says expulsion of princes best thing that ever happened to French republic; always in politics; county treasurer for twelve years; was made Knight of the Order of Guadalupe by Maximilian; only member of the order in the United States; in city 37 years.”
Donald E. Everett, San Antonio: The Flavor of Its past, 1845-1898, (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1975) p.139.
Land & Thompson, Historical and descriptive review of the industries of San Antonio, 1885 (San Antonio: Land & Thompson, 1885) p. 76.
Louise Lomax, San Antonio's River (San Antonio: Naylor, 1948) p. 34.
-Frank W. Jennings, 1992
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