When ice cream and soda pop were new both were made locally

— Photo from Mary Ellen Johnson

These two bottles were issued while Alansen F. Dietz was producing soda and they illustrate wires that were part of his patented soda-bottle stopper seal. The one on the left is marked Knowersville, Albany Co. while the one on the right is from the period when Dietz’s operation was located in Guilderland Center. Later bottles are marked Altamont. All are part of the collection at the Mynderse-Frederick House.

The delicious prospect of enjoying a frequent, inexpensive dish of ice cream or a glass of soda became reality for young and old alike during the last quarter of the 19th century. By 1900 these treats had become an established part of American life.

Ice cream was originally a luxurious dessert for the wealthy few — think George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. In 1843, an ice-cream churn using ice and salt as a way to chill ice cream was patented and over the next few decades  improvements on this basic idea resulted in the ice-cream freezer, a hand-cranked churn that, with the aid  of salt and ice, made ice cream available for the masses.

By 1897, the Altamont Hardware Store advertised, among other merchandise items, an ice-cream freezer. That same year, the Sears catalog, the Amazon of its day, pictured an ice-cream freezer that came in seven sizes ranging from two quarts to 14 quarts with list prices ranging from $1.43 to $6.04.

A few years later it was possible to buy an even larger freezer that made 30 quarts. Being that so many Guilderland residents owned one or more cows and an ice house, ice cream could be made as a special treat at home, though the hand cranking of the freezer was tedious and took strength.

Local churches found serving ice cream at socials a profitable fundraiser that proved to be a popular scene for socializing, especially among the young. “The young ladies of the [Guilderland Center] Lutheran congregation sell a large quantity of excellent ice cream at their new hall Saturday evenings. Their unaffected politeness and winsome cheery ways causes the boys to purchase several dishes during the evening,” The Enterprise reported.

Youth groups such as Christian Endeavor in Meadowdale sold ice cream at the Gardner Road Schoolhouse, while in Guilderland Center the Christian Endeavor group’s ice cream sales took in $50 in a month.

Church lawns and church halls all over town held ice-cream socials. In spring, a special attraction was the ripening of local strawberries that were served along with the ice cream.

In June 1901, the State Road Methodist Church at Parkers Corners offered a strawberry and ice-cream festival for the benefit of the church, one of many churches and temperance groups that organized ice-cream social fund raisers. An annual tradition was the Hamlet of Guilderland’s Presbyterian Church and the Good Templars, a temperance organization which met at Red Men’s Hall, each offering ice cream and strawberries on Memorial Day after the ceremonies at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Occasionally church ladies such as those from the McKownville Methodist Church held an ic- cream social on a congregant’s lawn, having scheduled one at the home of G.A. Manville and his wife in 1907 and cordially inviting the public to attend.

Guilderland Center’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church seemed to have served ice cream on Saturdays all summer each year. One 1907 August “Saturday night was certainly the record breaker for the sale ice cream at the Lutheran Hall, $35.80 and could have easily been brought up to $40 had the ice cream held out. As it was quite a few were turned away disappointed.”

Unless they used commercially made ice cream, churches must have been one of the buyers of the 14- or 20-quart ice-cream freezers and depended on some strong men of the congregation to crank up all that ice cream.

Hotels took notice of ice cream’s popularity, often announcing that at times on Saturdays or Sundays they would be offering ice cream in their parlors. Both summer visitors and locals alike could stop by Altamont’s Union Hotel, Guilderland Center’s Fowler’s Hotel, or the Dunnsville Hotel among others.

A few ladies advertised in the 1880s that they were serving ice cream for customers at their homes, but that did not seem to have caught on. Also in the 1880s, Ogsbury’s Dairy advertised it had an ice-cream parlor open where they were serving ice cream as well as having a soda fountain.

In addition, ice cream was available for purchase in pint, quart, or gallon sizes. The venture seemed to have lasted only one year.

The Novelty Store, opening in Altamont in 1908, offered both Colburn’s Ice Cream and Deitz soda in an area set aside in the new store. Colburn’s ice cream seems to have been commercially made, an activity in cities as early as 1851. Certainly by 1900, ice cream was no longer a novelty, but had become a common part of American life, at least in summer.


Soda subs for liquor

With the temperance movement gaining strength decade by decade, especially in rural areas, soda was increasingly considered a worthy substitute for alcoholic beverages, and in fact Hires Root Beer, developed from a tea made of various roots and herbs by Charles Hires in 1876, was originally advertised as “The National Temperance Drink.”

Many small-scale soda manufacturing operations began about this time, among them Alansen F. Deitz’s. He first established his soda-making business in East Worcester, Otsego County, then moved his business to Guilderland Center in 1873.

His production there included sarsaparilla, ginger ale, seltzer, and birch beer. He had developed a new improved soda bottle stopper seal, which he patented and which would preserve the effervescence in his soda created from infusions of carbon dioxide.

Various herbs and roots provided the raw materials for his flavorings. Burdock root for example was supposed to have been an important ingredient of root beer, which he does not seem to have bottled. Today his formulas for other varieties of sodas aren’t known.

As soon as The Knowersville Enterprise began publication in 1884, A.F. Deitz frequently advertised his wares, sold in clearly marked glass bottles sealed with his patented stopper. Several of these bottles with various locations imprinted in the glass where they were filled survive.

Each held about an eight-ounce cup of soda. With the rapid growth of Knowersville and its rail line, probably recognizing it would be a better market for his soda, Deitz in1885 moved his operation to Knowersville’s Church Street, which is now Maple Avenue.

There he remained in business until 1909. At first he advertised the flavors he was producing, but when his soda’s popularity took off, Deitz no longer had to advertise and his Enterprise ads disappeared.

Americans had developed a taste for soda as soon as it became readily available. Within two years of relocating to Knowersville, Deitz added 26 gross [3,744] bottles to his operation.

The Enterprise pointed out that he was “daily receiving orders from different stations along the railroad and his business was increasing materially.” Within a few years, Dietz purchased an additional $800 worth of bottles.

“Mr. Deitz puts up a nice line of goods and increasing trade is the result,” The Enterprise reported. The paper referred to Deitz as “the pop-man” in one reference when he purchased an additional horse for deliveries.

The price charged for a bottle of his soda is unknown; it is also not known if there was a deposit on his bottles or if he reused them. To produce soda at that time, it was common practice to steep or simmer in water the natural ingredients, add sugar, and then put in additional water to bring it to the desired intensity. Finally, the fluid was carbonated and bottled. Soda brands still favorites today were developed during those years: Pepsi Cola, Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper, Hires Root Beer, and Coca Cola.

They became known as soft drinks, promoted by temperance organizations as the alternative to alcohol, known as hard drinks.

The A.F. Deitz soda business prospered throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. In 1892, mention was made of the elaborate advertising calendar Deitz was offering customers, “one of the prettiest calendars we have seen this year.” Described as “our wide-awake manufacturer of mineral waters.” In the mid1890s there appeared a notice, “if your appetite is poor, try a bottle of Deitz’s Bozendale Appetizer, made from roots. For sale by A.F. Deitz, Altamont, N.Y.”

A notice inserted in the Dec. 18, 1906 Enterprise warned, “The young men who took A.F. Deitz’s road wagon from under his shed Hallowe’en night must settle for breaking it to pieces. They can settle for $10 now before any costs come by law. You had the pleasure of destroying the wagon, you will also have the pleasure of paying for the same.”

The year 1908 was not a good one for Deitz; he had been in a serious accident returning home from a business trip to New Salem. His team took a fright, bolted, and, when one horse fell, Mr. Deitz was thrown to the ground. He broke bones and was badly bruised, but his horses and wagon were unharmed.

The year before, one of his employees was on his way to Voorheesville to deliver soda when the team became skittish and overturned the wagon with the loss of several cases of bottles. Whether these accidents influenced his decisions is unknown but in 1909 Deitz sold his soda business to Sands Bros. who moved it to Park Street. They delivered the soda by motor truck.

Meanwhile, soda fountains had become a popular feature of drug stores and at times had been installed in some general stores. As early as 1885, The Enterprise observed that “large quantities of soda are sold daily at the Knowersville drug store.” 

Within two years, owners “Mssrs. Davenport & Frederick” invested in a “very attractive soda fountain” made of marble. The Enterprise observed, “They always draw a very nice glass of soda,” predicting a new flavor would be added soon.

Blood orange syrup was added to their flavors, and two years later the paper stated, “Our druggists are receiving many complimentary remarks from city people boarding in our village in regard to the superior quality of the soda they draw.” In the hamlet of Guilderland at Carpenter’s store, a soda fountain had been added and was described as well patronized.

By 1900, America’s love affair with sweets really had taken off. Once it was realized the profits to be made, church ladies and small local bottling companies were pushed out of the way by commercial production of ice cream and soda

 Soda certainly benefited from the temperance movement and later Prohibition, while the development of electric refrigeration contributed to ice-cream production and distribution.