Ice Cream Was Wildly Popular in Saline Around the Turn of the Century

 08/03/2016 - 14:39
Photo of ice cream production in Saline about 1890 at a Saline hotel. Photo donated by Grover B. Alber, grandson of bakery/confectionary owner John A. Alber of Saline.

When Grover Alber donated this photo to the Saline Historical Society, he said it was taken about 1890 at the hotel and bakery operated by his grandfather John A. Alber.

The hotel was located at 108 S. Ann Arbor St., which was home to Allan Grossman's law office for decades.

The two young men operating the machinery in the photo are obviously pleased about the ice cream they are making.

In the early days, ice cream was made by hand in a tub with a handle on top to stir it. This type of contraption would sit in a larger tub full of salted ice to keep the ice cream really cold.

The two young men in this photo are not forced to turn any handles. Everything is mechanized, perhaps with steam power.

The photo does not tell us whether chunks of ice from the previous winter were being used to cool the ice cream. In about 1890, industrial refrigeration machines were not available yet. John A. Alber probably had an ice house somewhere, and filled it in the winter with straw and chunks of ice for use in the summer for ice cream production.

This ice cream production was not the first in Saline. In 1881, J. H. Bortle advertised his restaurant and ice cream parlor in the Saline Observer, March 31, 1881. He may have created the ice cream the old fashioned way, hand-cranking it in a bowl.

John A. Alber took over his father-in-law’s saloon and hotel, and converted at least one beer tap into a soda fountain dispenser. Alber kept providing beer for his customers, but put the emphasis on candy and sweet baked goods.

It may have been a hassle to get fresh cream for his ice cream and baked confections, until a creamery was set up in Saline in 1897.

The creamery was quite successful. Management built a newer, bigger facility in 1910.

By 1913, the creamery managers realized the tremendous demand for ice cream and set up an “ice cream department” in their building.

Apparently John A. Alber had gone ahead with his bakery plans at the hotel sometime before 1893. The 1893 Sanborn fire insurance map shows a bakery at this location, and it says “Bakery & Saloon”

Alber was helped in his ideas to create a bakery at the hotel, and sell candy and sodas. He had advice available to him from his father-in-law, John G. Frank. He also had an uncle on his mother’s side, Saline retailer Charles Burkhardt, to provide advice.

April 4, 1912 Alber ran a display ad in The Saline Observer. “Hotel Saline” has board and lodging by the week, the ad says, and ice cream sodas. “Fresh bread every day.”

By 1913, equipment for making ice cream was easily available. Henne’s Hardware Store in Saline ran a front-page display ad in the Saline Observer August 14, 1913: “Gasoline engines, US Creamery separators, washing machines, refrigerators, and ice cream freezers.”

The modern ice cream industry was launched when a continuous-process freezer was perfected in 1926.

Sources: Wikipedia,  International dairy foods association web site, Saline Observer online, Saline Historian Bob Lane, Saline Area Historical Society, Saline District Library internet photos of Saline history; Find a Grave; Marriage and Death records; census records.

(Photo: Photo of ice cream production in Saline about 1890 at a Saline hotel. Photo donated by Grover B. Alber, grandson of bakery/confectionary owner John A. Alber of Saline. PHOTO #61 from the Saline District Library collection.)

Martha A. Churchill
BA in Journalism and Anthropology at UM in 1973. Law degree at Cooley Law School in 1979. Member of Milan City Council since 2004. Practicing attorney. Genealogist since 2001; local historian since 2006. Free-lance writer.