• The History of Soda Fountains in Medfield

    by  • May 1, 2019 • 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Medfield • 0 Comments

    Ice cream sodas.

    There’s an interesting tradition behind the phenomenon of soda fountains here in Medfield. That history would be preceded by the creation of ice cream being made in early America. Without the ice cream, soda fountains would have been a great deal different.

    Surprisingly, the idea of ice cream originally came from the Roman emperor, Nero, who had explorers bring back from China the method of making ice. Nero then decided to add milk or cream to the ice along with sweet flavorings.

    The ice cream making process became more refined over the centuries. In 1832, John Mathews decided to add salt to the mixture of ice cream to keep the product from completely freezing. Mathews invented a machine that mixed sulfuric acid and calcium carbonate to make carbon dioxide, artificially carbonated waters at a quantity that could be sold to drugstores and street vendors. Soon afterward, various soda fountain makers joined together to form the American Soda Fountain Company in 1891.

    Norman Rockwell soda fountain.

    In the early 20th century and until the 1960s, it was common for small-town and city residents to enjoy carbonated beverages at local soda fountains that carried and sold ice cream. Often housed in pharmacies, the ornate soda fountain counter served as a meeting place for people of all ages and became popular as a legal place to gather during Prohibition. By the 1920s, just about every drug store had a soda fountain.

    Of course, soda fountains were greatly enhanced with ice cream and all of its fantastic innovations and many delicious confections. Here’s the scoop on the traditional ice cream sundae made in Medfield.

    The sundae was first made in the early 20th century, as a derivative of the ice cream soda. Some customers preferred the ice cream with flavored syrup without the soda water. That became the recipe for today’s ice cream sundae. The cost was only a nickel and sold only on Sunday. However, soon afterwards the sundae became so popular that it was served daily for just a dime more, with the price steadily increasing over the years.

    The ice cream soda underwent a similar evolution. The soda is made by adding soda water to the ice cream along with added flavoring. As soon as the soda hits the ice cream the fizzy, frothy, tasty bubbles spring into action. The carbon dioxide is leaving the mixture. Bubbles of air in the ice cream provide a break-up and change around which carbon dioxide bubbles can form and grow. Some ingredients in the ice cream lower the surface tension of the soda so gas bubbles can expand, while other ingredients trap bubbles with ease. It might all sound like a creation of Mr. Wizard and a bit technological, but it isn’t. So just sit back and enjoy!

    Soda fountains were great fun for a long time, until they were pushed aside in the 1970s, when fast foods, commercial ice cream, bottled soft drinks and restaurants came to the fore. Today’s equivalent of a soda fountain is nothing other than a small, self-serve soft drink dispenser that one might see at a fast food restaurant or movie theater lobby.

    Classic hot fudge sundae.

    Medfield has had some great soda fountains over the past decades. Some might remember a small restaurant named Ann’s Kitchen, where the Noon Hill Grille is today.  Ann’s soda fountain was where many young kids had their first hot fudge sundae in a beautiful, tall, elegant glass dish enjoying a dessert that’s “as hot as the summer and as cold as the winter.”

    Right in Medfield center in 1958, there were two soda fountains that served up ice cream sundaes, considered to be a gastronomic delight. The soda fountain at the Clement Drug was well known for delicious sundaes with the hot chocolate sauce, sprinkled with walnuts and whipped cream with a maraschino red cherry on top.

    Of course, if you wanted an even better sugar high, you could ask the person working the counter would substitute marshmallow sauce for the whipped cream upon request. It never hurt to add some ice cream to the multiplicity of toppings. This soda fountain also made the first 25-cent frappes and milk shakes sold in Medfield on the new electric blenders.

    Beside various ice cream desserts in many flavors, Clement Drug sold coffee, candy bars, life savers, gum, lime rickeys and soft drinks. The soda fountain employed some high school students like Lisa Paulson and Kenny Jodoin as well as moms, Mrs. Keirstead and Mrs. Petrie. One could buy a 10- or 15-cent cup of ice cream as well as a hand-packed pint or quart that was sold in what was known as “bulk,” with the counter help scooping from the frozen tub containers in the freezers behind the counter. That soda fountain stayed with the most popular flavors of the day with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, and maple walnut. Some of the parents admitted to sitting at home and eating a whole pint of their favorite ice cream while watching television shows like, Ozzie and Harriet -especially when Ricky Nelson sang the song, Tutti Frutti, a flavor of ice cream commonly known today as frozen pudding. Here’s a link to Little Richard’s version.

    Jack Frazier, who lived in Miller Street, admitted he even liked eating ice cream from the Clement Drug Store when he watched the late night movie Sunset Boulevard, with William Holden and Gloria Swanson – possibly the only movie that had the main character narrating the story after being shot and left for dead, face-down in Norma Desmond’s swimming pool.  Jack was also one of the first in Medfield to own an MG-TD sports car.

    Diagonally across North Street from the Clement Drug Store was the Medfield Newspaper Store owned by Bob Collins that had a small soda fountain run by various Medfield teens. That store looked somewhat like the corner bodega, also selling canned goods, newspapers, and a great assortment of penny candy.  Many young kids would go there to buy malted milk balls, licorice babies, candy dots stuck on paper, fire balls, mint juleps, bubble gum, and two for a nickel, little Hershey Bars. The soda fountain to the left served ice cream milk shakes and was the first place in Medfield to serve Coca Cola with cherry, chocolate, and vanilla flavored syrups added. The store was a favorite after school hangout.

    In 1959 Collins moved into a brand new and larger store where the North Street Market is today. The store had the longest soda fountain in all of Medfield and the best pie a la mode and banana splits in town.   If by chance a family ran out of milk or food to serve on a holiday, weekend or late in the day, that newspaper store sold just about any canned goods and drinks sold at a supermarket. (Blue Laws kept the larger stores closed on Sundays.)

    Lord's soda fountain image

    Lord’s Department Store soda fountain.

    Lord’s Department Store had a soda fountain at their first store and expanded it in 1957. The soda fountain was spotless and shiny with a wide assortment of ice cream, sandwiches, and soft drinks. Behind the middle of the counter was a large display container of orange juice kept flowing all day. The fountain was run by many different Medfield High School kids like Betsy Gibbons, Jackie Donahue, Paul Nyren, Freddie Coffin, and Tommy Kelly and his sister Nancy…and countless others. Tommy Kelly mentioned that as time moved on, he always seemed to be training someone and breaking them into the business. But the Kelly family persevered and kept the store running for 73 years until February 28, 2013.

    In 1967, the Santosuosso family opened an ice cream store/restaurant along with a soda fountain named The Gay Ninety. That restaurant had the widest variety of home-made ice cream ever in the town of Medfield. In the beginning the family had a nice establishment, but it became a hangout for teens, who had nasty confrontations with the owners. After the kids smashed the windows, the family sold the restaurant to the Manganello family.

    Brothers soda fountain image

    Brothers soda fountain

    Even though soda fountains may be down, they’re not out. When Lord’s closed, the store was gutted and rebuilt and opened as Brothers Marketplace – complete with a new soda fountain!  The ice cream and its variations are sometimes even better, if more expensive.

    People in Medfield complained because we used to have four gas stations all in the center of town. They complained because our beautiful library was too small.  The town hall was too small, with the Medfield police and fire department all squeezed into one building. Now the town has a new and better public safety building. There is now better housing available for the many. The school system is one of the very best in the country.

    People from in and out of town used to refer to Medfield as Deadfield, but not so much anymore. We live in a town where the beat goes on and we keep riding the wave. It’s a place that’s kind of like Bedford Falls from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, a place where many may be like the main character, George Bailey. He emerged from a nightmare that could have been, to one where we can follow his lead and sometimes rely on one another, live and share with each other. It’s where the glass is still half full and not half empty. It’s a town of sensitive, generous people who are charitable, who enjoy life and support a food bank, town history and so much more. We honor our fathers and mothers, our living and our dead. With perspective has come understanding. We are forever like the stars that fall and come crashing to Earth and making our mark.



    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

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