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Summertime treats — old fashioned ice cream parlors and soda fountains

August 13, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

So, which came first - Ice cream parlors or soda fountains? Why were soda fountains usually found in drug stores? Which ice cream parlor or soda fountain was the first one in Westfield?

Since ancient times, mineral water from carbonated springs has been touted for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. During the time of the Roman Empire, there were often establishments for drinking the waters offered nearby their famous Baths. In the United States, health spas such as at Saratoga Springs were popular even in the early 1700s. About 1770 at least two scientists had developed processes and equipment for artificial carbonation so that by the early 1800s carbonated or soda water was being offered at apothecary shops (early drug stores). 1820 saw the invention of the soda fountain, and in the early 1830s flavored syrups were being added to this new-favored beverage. By the end of the Civil War, soda fountains became popular and were strongly encouraged by temperance groups. Also in the mid 1800s, cream was often added to the flavored sodas for a smoother delight. The bottling of sodas and other carbonated beverages, such as beers and ales was limited primarily to very heavy bottles with corks wired on to prevent them "going off like cannons," until about 1890 with the development of the crown bottle cap.

As for ice cream, although flavored ices were known as long as 3,000 years ago in China, and later became the popular rage at courts in Europe from the 1500s to 1700s, the use of cream in frozen desserts was limited until the 1700s, as it was difficult to prevent souring. With the advent of pasteurization, some progress was made so that in the mid 1700s, ice creams and gelatos were being produced and offered in specialty parlors first in Europe. Then around 1770-1776, depending on what historic source is quoted, the first US Ice Cream Parlor was started in New York City. The hand-cranked ice cream freezer was patented in 1843, encouraging the proliferation of flavored frozen creamy desserts and the expansion of ice cream parlors. In 1874, Robert M Green, running out of cream to add to his flavored sodas, added ice cream, to produce the first ice cream "float" or ice cream soda. During the stuffy Victorian era, drinking soda water was deemed improper by the temperance folks, so some places actually banned the sale of it on Sundays. Druggists, in response, concocted a legal Sunday alternative containing ice cream and syrup, but no soda water - hence the first ice cream sundae.

Article Photos

Submitted Photo
Pictured is of Tony's Olympian circa 1950s

In the late 1800s, specialized soda shops and ice cream parlors were proliferating throughout the United States so that by 1900, census records showed more soda fountain establishments than bars and saloons. Then, in 1903, the first ice cream waffle cones were created, providing another great frozen dessert treat to add to sodas, ice cream sodas, and ice cream sundaes. Of course, Prohibition, becoming law in 1919, led to even more ice cream parlors and soda fountains in the glory years of soda fountain/ice cream parlors from 1890 to 1960.

In Westfield, apothecaries, pharmaceuticals, or drug stores were among some of the earliest businesses in the early 1800s. In addition, mineral springs - sulfur springs on the west side of the gorge abut 1820, and black water baths in the village in the later 1800s and early 1900s, were popular. Soda water and soda fountains are first advertised in the mid 1870s. The Westfield Republican of April 15, 1874, describes "Towles New Quarters Nos. 8 and 9" which had become a large drug and sundries store where "In due time a $450 French Soda Fountain is to grace the west counter and dispense refreshing draughts when the thirsty days of summer shall be here. (Towles in 1874 was later the location of Kingan's Drug Store in the mid 1900s, and is now Time Warner Cable quarters). It seems it was not until May 1879 when the newspaper reports "Mr. H. S. Towle has placed an elegant soda fountain in his store faucets for soda, ginger ale, and congress water." However, residents in 1874 were pleased to read in the June 3rd Republican, "Soda Water.-The new and handsome Arctic Soda Fountain at No. 1 Spencer Block was "opened" last evening. A few less than 10,000 glasses were disposed of." This was the location of the Corner Drug Store, of which Harvey was proprietor at that time. Later it was owned and run by several other druggists including Fenner, Minton, Jones, and finally Julia Poole from 1910 to 1948. Other Drug Stores, such as Central, or Lyons, and finally Kingan's had soda fountains at the "mid block" site. And a series of drug stories operated by various druggists including Lamb & Cowan, and Miller, had soda fountains in the location where Blanches Goodie Garden is now located (most recently Westfield Optical and before that Gunnard's).

There were several specialty Ice Cream Parlors and Soda Fountains in Westfield from about 1910 to 1965, starting with the beloved Tony's Olympian which was the longest running (1912-1964), where now Molly Catalano's Antique store is located. The second best-known would be Ellis Bros. which started next to the Grand Theater in the Carlson Block, from 1931 to 1934, then moved to where the Sports Card store is now located at 23 East Main until the death of Paul Ellis about 1961. A couple others were the Jackdaw, at the corner of Market and Main Streets in the mid 1920s, and Lou's Soda Fountain and Restaurant at 35 East Main in 1966.

Wanting a place to have an old-fashioned ice cream soda, yours truly, Marybelle Beigh, opened Parkview Ice Cream Parlor and Soda Fountain (and cafe) in July 2009, at 3 East Main Street, operating it for three seasons, and closing at the end of January 2012. The Cafe Restaurant continued in 2012 with Beth Powers as proprietor, and now thrives as "The Parkview" restaurant owned and operated by Ed and Dave sorry, no longer an ice cream parlor/soda fountain but one of the best places for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Westfield!



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