Have Another Scoop of Ice Cream

For many years ice cream has been one of the things that has made Sylacauga my home sweet home. Frostkist was the first brand mentioned in my research. The construction of the new plant was a big operation since machines and cooling systems had to be installed in the building at the corner of Industrial Avenue and Fourth Street.                 

“Form follows function” is an old architectural principle, and carpenters had to make adjustments in the existing Sylacauga Warehouse Company building and add new doors and windows. Storage was a problem then and now. That first Frostkist factory produced a product that was not sold directly to the consumer. Ice cream bars and popsicles were available in stores from this plant.                                                                       

Besides the creativity of the name Frostkist ,according to the Sylacauga News, Friday, June 21, 1929, “…the factory will produce special orders on instructions.  They will make ice cream for fountain purposes, cones, package goods, specialities for social events and picnics, and will put on the market a delightful novelty five cent seller known as a “Frostkist”, which is a dainty cake and cream combination in a flat cone form, easy to eat and more convenient that the ordinary cone.”  Popsicles and ice cream bars were quickly in demand.                                                                                                                    
The Frostkist Ice Cream and Creamery Company formed a new corporation in March, 1930, that was made up of some of the stockholders of the old company; but Luther Widemire of Oklahoma City Oklahoma purchased a large share of this stock and became the chief operating officer of the plant. He had been in the ice cream business for many years and came to Sylacauga from an existing large company.  A big expansion program was immediately started.    

  In February of 1941 the name was changed to Widemire’s Inc.  As the company grew, sales tripled. Widemire was quoted as saying this growth was due to the product being so good as well as the population’s new found realization that ice cream is just as good to eat in the winter as it is in the summer. (Sylacauga News, 1936). On a personal note, I am trying to convince myself that I will stop eating so much when summer’s over, but maybe not. The old  building was too small, and construction was begun on the present beautiful building which was occupied in 1946. Branches were opened in Alex City, Montgomery, and Florence; and the company became a major factor in the ice cream business in Alabama.                                                                                                        

I was surprised to read that in the spring of 1947, the front section of the present building was opened to the public. It was known as Dave’s Ice Cream Bar, and the manager was none  other than Mr. Emmett Davenport. The ice cream was still Frostkist. Beryl Pitchford who wrote about this in years gone by reported that Emmett Davenport said ice cream sold for a nickel a cone, milkshakes a quarter, and a banana split for 35 cents; yet on Easter Sunday, 1947, Dave’s sold $972.                                                                     

In 1953, Mr. Widemire sold out to Foremost Dairies, Inc. According to Bill Edwards’ interview with E.L Widemire, Jr. in 1993,  the business was doing more than a million dollars a year at the time of the transaction.                                                                            

Foremost was a prominent company that had been founded by J.C. Penney and Paul Reinhold some 45 years prior. The company had been named Foremost for Mr. Penney’s prize bull, Langwater Foremost. Penney was interested in dairy farming, and  developing  the Foremost strain of Guernsay Cattle was his hobby. Foremost, like other companies, had its ups and downs and reorganizations over the years, but in Sylacauga it was very successful; and according to an early history of the company, the Sylacauga plant manufactured ice cream for plants in Alabama, Georgia, North Florida, Tennessee, and Eastern Mississippi. In addition the company produced 155 items in stick novelties. An international office in San Franciso sent milk and other products to military bases and other locations in Hawaii, Iran, Turkey, and other locations around the world.                      

Does anyone else remember the white snowballs (pictured here) that were a novelty for Christmas in the fifties?  I remember well Mrs. Bob Fulbright serving these to our group of First Baptist young people who came to her home for a Christmas party. It was a pretty neat Christmas dessert. Other novelties from Foremost included Drumsticks, vanilla ice cream in a tan waffle cone topped with chopped nuts.  Fess (Lewis Simpkins) would give us each a quarter and let us walk from Main Avenue School’s band practice to Webster’s Grocery and buy drumsticks if we excelled in the challenge for the day (something like playing well “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight”). More clever novelties that went well with the culture of the day included the Dixie Doodle, Triple Goodness, Howdy Doody Twin popsicles, Howdy Doody Fudge Bars, and Clarabell Bars. (If you remember Clarabell Cow was on the Howdy Doody Show on those first televisions of so long ago.)                                                                                                          

Foremost  was very community oriented and prided itself on the wages it paid its employees who shopped and banked in the Marble City. Because Foremost grew so rapidly, in 1959 the Federal Trade Commission intervened and on January 1 a new corporation, Home Town Foods, Inc., was created. In 1967 The Home Town name was changed to Farmbest, Inc,  and later to Farmbest Foods, Inc.                                                            

One of the most interesting things about Sylacauga’s ice cream industry is that it has basically stayed in the same location. From Industrial Avenue and Fourth Street to the present Norton Avenue location in 1947, there have been new additions to buildings and ice cream flavors, but one things remains constant.  We still have the best ice cream around, made right here in Sylacauga, Alabama. See you next week with a little sample of Blue Bell.  I got some Alabama peaches from the Sylacauga Farmer’s Market last Friday, and that peach cobbler I made yesterday was really yummy, with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top! It’s good!!!