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Kaleidoscope: Ice cream was big in Youngstown; two sites focus on city history

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published: September 21, 2016 1:00 AM
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When one thinks of the Youngstown of old, several things might come to mind -- steel production, mall developer Edward J. DeBartolo, organized crime and government corruption.

Whereas traffic -- both on foot and in vehicles -- was heavy downtown and around the steel mills in the mid-1900s, and business boomed as smoke from the steel mills bleched into the air, it's much more laid back now.

Although the population has dwindled from 170,000 in 1930 to about 66,000, Y-town is trying to make a comeback, and there are some neat places to visit to learn about the city's history.

On an early summer road trip to Y-town, I learned a few things that I didn't know about the city, and I visited three interesting museums, including the Tyler History Center.

Most people love to eat ice cream, and I found out Y-town has quite an ice cream legacy. Two popular ice cream bars and one famous ice cream franchise began there.

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THE GOOD HUMOR BAR

Harry Burt was a confectioner who made and sold candy, ice cream and baked goods in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He moved from place to place downtown as his business expanded.

In the early 1920s, he created the "Good Humor Sucker," which was chocolate-coated ice cream on a wooden stick -- one of the first ice cream bars.

He was one of the first ice cream makers to use refrigerated trucks to distribute his products throughout the city, complete with white-uniformed drivers and jingling bells.

He received a patent for the machinery to produce the Good Humor bar, and in 1922, bought a three-story building on West Federal Street near the Mahoning River.

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Production in the building continued after Burt's death, but the site closed in 1929 after a New Yorker acquired the rights to the firm. Direct sales of the bars continued until 1976.

Today, the bars -- which still can be purchased in many grocery stores -- are under the guise of Good Humor-Breyers, a Unilever subsidiary.

So what happened to Burt's downtown building? It's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, owned by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and serves as the Tyler History Center.

In the months since I visited, a Good Humor Sucker advertising sign was painted on one exterior wall of the Tyler Center. It reads: "Good Humor ice cream suckers -- 10 cents each -- the New Clean Convenient Way To Eat Ice Cream.

ABOUT THE TYLER CENTER

One of the items on display in the center is a three-wheeled ice cream delivery cart, which boasts that the price of a Good Humor bar was 5 cents back then.

The Tyler center houses local history exhibits, an archival library, a ballroom on the third floor and the Anne Kilcawley Christman Educational Resource Center with classrooms.

Among other items there are a car from the Wildcat roller coaster at old Idora Amusement Park, a park ticket booth and a large boom microphone from WFMJ-TV, the city's first TV station.

Earlier this year, a 1948-era "Youngstown Kitchen" enameled steel cabinet and countertop set arrived at the center. Y-town's Mullins Manufacturing made the fixtures.

On the day I visited, a community exhibit titled "Wheels of Steel: The Mahoning Valley's Car Culture" opened. Because of a drizzling rain, a classic car show outside drew only a handful of exhibitors.

The "wheels" exhibit features photos, awards and memorabilia from car collectors, race teams and local tracks, plus items from several Mahoning Valley car clubs.

Two of the items on display are a hand-built 1962 T-bucket street rod owned by Fred Rome and a custom-built, record-breaking electric drag bike from Lawless Industries.

The "wheels" exhibit ran throughLabor Day.

THE ISALY'S DAIRY

Another exhibit in the center features a large Isaly's sign and a copper kettle used by the company to make dairy products. Isaly's once had a major presence in Y-town.

The Klondike ice cream bar was developed in Isaly's five-story Y-town plant, which now houses a U-Haul storage facility. The building was erected in 1918, and expanded in the art deco style in 1938.

Isaly's was founded in Mansfield, and had production facilities there and in Y-town, Akron, Canton, Marion and Pittsburgh. At its peak, it operated 350 stores in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

When I was growing up in New Philadelphia, an Isaly's store was on North Broadway near the county courthouse. Chipped chopped ham and Skyscraper Cones were other famous Isaly's products.

A newspaper colleague of mine who grew up in Y-town recalls her school visited the plant and students received free ham sandwiches.

An Isaly's store operated in Stow until a few years ago.

In the early 1980s, Klondike bars began nationwide distribution with the catchy slogan "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?" Like the Good Humor bar, the product is now part of the Unilever empire.

ARMS FAMILY MUSEUM

Another facility operated by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society is the Arms Family Museum on the eastern border of Youngstown State University.

The 10,800-square-foot mansion on Wick Avenue -- named Greystone -- was designed by Olive F.A. Arms, who studied painting and drawing locally, in New York City and in Europe.

The house, built in 1905, is considered one of the best examples of arts and crafts design in Ohio. Walking into the first floor is like returning to the 19th century.

Many of the items are hand-crafted and objects from nature. Some depict medieval themes. Original furnishings, art objects and personal artifacts are plentiful.

Exhibits on the second floor and lower level highlight the collections of the historical society.

When I visited -- and through the end of June -- an exhibit called "The Warner Brothers: From Hometown to Hollywood" focused on the Warner family's Y-town beginnings through its Hollywood years.

There were photos, a painting of the lobby of Y-town's Warner Theater in 1940 and letters received by a friend of the Warner family. The first Warner Theater was in New Castle, Pa.

Y-town's theater opened in 1931 and closed in 1968. It stands on West Federal Street, just a half-block from the Tyler History Center, and is now called the DeYor Performing Arts Center / Powers Auditorium.

The Arms Museum also features clothing worn by Olive and her two sisters, plus the B.F. Wirt collection of rare ancient artifacts, artwork, books, autographs and manuscripts.

Another highlight is Anne Kilcawley Christman Hands-On History Room, which focuses on arts / crafts influences in the home and includes "The Valley Experience" history display.

HANDEL'S ICE CREAM

The ice cream shop franchise which originated in Y-town is Handel's, which has stores in Northfield, Stow and Tallmadge. The company operates about three dozen locations, mostly in Ohio.

Alice Handel founded the chain in 1945 -- the same year Wendy's Old-fashioned Hamburgers came on the scene -- in her husband's gas station.

Her first batches were made using old-fashioned recipes with fresh fruit she picked from her backyard. The menu has expanded to more than 100 flavors of ice cream and yogurt.

Books such as "The 10 Best of Everything" and "Everyone Loves Ice Cream," and several periodicals, recognize Handel's as one of the best ice creams in the world.

The southside Youngstown location has been described as "the busiest ice cream stand in America" and "one of the best ice cream parlors in America" by certain hospitality industry publications.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189


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