Ice Cream Parlors of Yesteryear

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Hi, Winnie Griggs here. In one of my upcoming books my characters will be travelling ‘back east’ to visit some folks in New York. One of the things I wanted them to do was stop in at an ice cream parlor but I had to do some research to see what they would find in such an establishment.  I thought that I would share a few fun facts from my research with you today.


In the late 19th century the establishments were called various names, depending on locale and period. They were called Ice cream saloons (this surprised me but then I learned that during that period a saloon merely indicated a generously-sized room) They were also called ice cream parlors and Ladies’ Cafes.

Ice cream parlors were in existence here in America much longer than I’d thought. According to one source I read, they were around as early as the 1770s.  In fact, there’s record of advertisements in 1774 sponsored by an establishment owned by a Philip Lenzi announcing the sale of iced creams and other popular sweets. As for elsewhere in the world, they date even earlier. There is record of an establishment in France that sold gelatos in 1686!


Ice cream soda, otherwise known as an ice cream float, was invented by Robert Green, almost by accident, in the late 19th century. Green operated a parlor in Philadelphia and used syrups, carbonated water, and cream to make his sodas. Legend has it, one day Green ran out of cream and decided to substitute ice cream. It proved quite popular, so much so that soon his earnings grew from $6 to $600 a day.

The ice cream sundae was also invented in the late 19th century. There are a number of different claims as to its origins however. One story has it invented in Evanston, IL around 1890. The story goes that the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of soda water on Sundays. In response the ice cream parlors removed the soda water from their ice cream sodas sold on that day, leaving only the ice cream and syrup. A second claim has it originating in Two Rivers, WI in 1881 when a customer requested a dish of ice cream with soda syrup poured on top. Yet a third claim places its origins in Ithaca, NY in 1893. It is said the proprietor of Platt & Colt’s drugstore, presented a local reverend with a bowl of ice cream that had been elevated with both cherry syrup and a candied cherry on top. Regardless of its true origins, for the purpose of my story set in 1895 it would definitely have been around!


As for myself, I have wonderful memories from my childhood of sitting at the soda fountain counter in the Woolworth store and enjoying an ice cream float. I know, I’m dating myself.

So what about you? Did anything in today’s post surprise or intrigue you? And what is your favorite frozen treat?


And in honor of my new book, Texas Cinderella, which hits the shelves next month, I’d like to give away an advanced copy to one person who leaves a comment before noon CST tomorrow.


22 TC- small

In Search of a Groom 

After a life of drudgery on her family’s farm, Cassie Lynn Vickers relishes her new-found freedom working in town as a paid companion and planning to open a bakery of her very own. When her father suddenly demands she come home, however, she decides her only way out is to find a husband.

Riley is on the run. He’s desperate to keep his niece and nephew safe from his crooked half brother. But a stopover and unexpected delay in Turnabout, Texas, shows him everything he didn’t know he was missing: home, family—and Cassie Lynn. Can he find a way to become her Prince Charming…and build a real family with the children and Cassie Lynn?

(click on cover to read an excerpt)



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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

33 thoughts on “Ice Cream Parlors of Yesteryear”

  1. Wow! I didn’t realize Ice Cream Parlors had been around that long. I too use to go to the counter at Woolworth’s to have an Ice Cream soda. I haven’t seen an Ice Cream Parlor since Woolworth’s closed their doors. Sad.

    I would love to win a copy of your newest book Texas Cinderela. Thank you for the chance,

    Cindy W.

  2. I just love research. YOU find the most amazing facts. I did find the dates interesting and also the term saloon. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Debra. Research is one of my favorite parts of being writer! If I’m not careful I can get lost in researching one little factoid by following all sorts of intriguing little rabbit trails 🙂

  3. Hi Winnie, your new book sounds wonderful. Love the cover.

    Like you, I did research on ice cream for a book and discovered that Marshal Wyatt Earp was an ice cream devotee. Every afternoon would find him at the Tombstone ice cream parlor. I wonder if that’s where he was heading when he got sidetracked by the shootout at the O.K. Corral?

  4. My favorite frozen treat is simple, straight up without any additions: Breyer’s ice cream. Or, the soft kind whipped into a cone. My earliest memory is of the soft kind in an early version of a summer walk-up outside unit to order a cone, but I also remember an ice-cream parlor in the next town.

    As for your first question about your post, the various meanings and origins of words always grab me, so I was definitely caught by the word “saloon.” From the Oxford Dictionary:
    (1) public room or building used for a specified purpose, “a billiard saloon”;
    (1.1) North American, a place where alcoholic drinks may be bought and drunk;
    (1.2) A large public room for use as a lounge on a ship; and
    (1.3) British, A luxurious railroad car used as a lounge or restaurant or as private accommodations, “a dining saloon.”
    Also, (2) British, An automobile having a closed body and a closed trunk separated from the part in which the driver and passengers sit; a sedan, “a saloon car.”

    For origins, most citations have saloon coming from either French “salon” which came from “salle”–a room, or from Italian from “salone” which came from “sala”–a hall.

    BUT–some go back to either Latin “solum”–ground or “solea”–sole or sandal, or to Old High German “sal”–house or hall. I tend toward a Germanic origin because of like Germanic words, such as Anglo-Saxon “sele,” Danish “zaal,” and Iceland “salr” (to dwell), and because of the Proto-Germanic “salA”, from a Proto-Indo-European root “sel-” or “sol-” meaning dwelling.

    Sorry for going on so when we’re trying to talk about ice cream! Yipes! I need either a cone or a shot! ;D

  5. I too remember going to the local soda fountain and getting the best ice cream and malts ever,those were the good days

  6. I remember a Woolworth’s store that used to be near my grandmother’s… don’t remember an ice cream parlor though… love ice cream!

  7. I hope I win that book as I am presently reading that series now–2 more to go. (and the new one)
    My favorite frozen dessert is a strawberry sundae.

  8. Hi Winnie, My favorite treat is an ice ream sundae with all the toppings! Dairy Queen has a treat called a Peanut Butter Bash which some places know what it is right away and some don’t but it is my absolute favorite!!!!!! Interesting about soda water being prohibited on Sunday, even if it’s a rumor. Jenny
    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  9. Winnie,
    The facts were all wonderful! I found the fact that ice cream soda was around before the sundae most interesting! My favorite all time ice cream is home made! My aunt and I have finally perfected a vanilla based one! I could almost eat it everyday!? Would love win a copy of your book for another adventure in Turnabout!

  10. Many good memories triggered by this post. I am a bit surprised that ice cream/gelato has been around so long.
    We had a wonderful soda fountain in my hometown, Lario’s. It had all the features associated with the classic soda fountain. What I remember was lots of dark wood, a long marble counter, swivel stools, lovely stained glass windows, long mirrors on the wall, and the shiny spigots, etc. behind the counter. I would save for weeks to go for a malt or sundae. They also sold candy. I remember the elaborate eggs and candies they made for Easter. Sadly it was destroyed in a fire some time in the late 1950’s. Now I am dating myself : ) We did have a Woolworth’s with a lunch counter. I remember taking my grandmother there for an ice cream sundae. It seemed like a fortune at the time, but I think it probably cost 25 cents for one.

    It really is a shame there aren’t many beautiful soda fountains like Lario’s left anymore.

  11. Hi Winnie! It’s always interesting to learn the history of just about anything 🙂 One of the most fascinating things about this post is the record of an establishment in France that sold gelatos in 1686! I’ve never had gelato so I’m not sure what it is, though I’ve seen those in the ice-cream section of our grocery store. Maybe I’ll have to try something like that soon!

    My favorite frozen treat is vanilla bean ice-cream just plain or french vanilla. I know that probably sounds very boring, but I like to get the natural stuff and it has SO much flavor to it. My favorite brand is Breyers Natural vanilla bean/french vanilla. My second favorite frozen treat is the ice-cream sandwiches, especially the neapolitan flavor!

    Congrats on the newest LIH Texas Cinderella! And thank you for the chance to win a copy.

  12. Now I am craving a bowl of ice cream! I remember going to Eoolworth’so with my grandparents- hot dog and a root beer float.

  13. As a kid, mom would shop at Belk (on the square) and I would go next door to Scotts, sit at the counter and have a burger and ice cream soda. Those were the days!

    Cream to ice cream, he unknowingly ran into a goldmine!

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