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A step back in time

As with all museums, the moment you step through the doorway, you also take a step back in time.

As you enter the front door of the Lyon County Museum on West Lyon Street in Marshall, a vintage ice cream parlor quickly captures your attention, and your memory is instantly reverted back to the 1950s.

Under the guidance of Executive Director Jennifer Andries, an ice cream parlor was constructed inside the museum as a tribute to Schwan’s Dairy (now called Schwan’s Food Company), which has been in operation in Marshall since 1948 and has had home delivery since 1952.

This isn’t just a display of a portion of what an ice cream parlor looked like. This retro shop is spacious, clean and inviting; just as it was seven decades ago in cities across America. The chrome fountain was manufactured by Bastian and Blessing, the nation’s top-selling company of fountains founded in 1908. The sign above the four flavors of soda reads: “Coca Cola Tasty Refreshing Drinks,” fitting for this fountain since Coca Cola has been a longtime bottling company in Marshall.

The retro counter, stools, and some of the tables and chairs inside the museum’s ice cream parlor are also made of chrome.

The stools and chairs have red vinyl seats, and the tablecloths are red-and-white checkered. There are also vintage chrome guards attached to the counter that were designed to keep the napkin holders, sugar jars or ketchup and mustard containers from falling off the counter.

“We looked at photos of the 1950s ice cream shops,” said Andries, who is in her third year as director. “The ice cream parlor is not an exact replica, but it represents the time period.”

The vintage soda fountain, counter and some of the ice cream dishes were purchased by the museum at an antique mall in Alexandria in the mid-1990s.

Because the original parlors would not pass health inspection codes of today, the vintage soda fountain that is the focal point of the museum recreation attempt, will not be used. Instead, the museum had to construct a separate area to serve the ice cream. The modern serving area sits inside the retro black-and-white tiled floor area and looks like part of the parlor.

“To meet health regulations, we had to have a new floor, three-compartment sink, hand wash sink, and NSF approved appliances and counters,” explained Andries. “So we will serve sundaes, cones, root beer floats and banana splits from a separate counter. But they can still sit and eat around the old counter and chairs and tables.”

The museum is also contemplating the addition of “Pig’s Dinner” to its ice cream menu. A popular dish in the original ice cream shops, a Pig’s Dinner was larger than a banana split and was generally an item shared by two or more people. It consisted of a sliced banana, four scoops of ice cream, four toppings, whipped cream and cherries on top.

All proceeds from the sale of the items at the ice cream shop go directly back to the museum.

Museum workers and volunteers will serve the items in old-style glass dishes that were either purchased or donated to the museum.

Ice cream parlors were the fad in the ‘50s. Nearly every town had one, either in the back of a drugstore or just by itself. It was a place to take your date or hang out with friends and share a laugh. It was a place for family outings to enjoy a malted milk on a warm summer day. Or it was a place to dance to the jukebox playing in the corner.

The museum has a working jukebox loaned to them by local resident Al Eggermont.

The grand opening of the ice cream parlor was held on May 28. It took the board of directors, staff members, volunteers and hired workers over a year to complete the design and recreation.

“Some of the people that have seen the shop have mentioned that their first job was as a ‘soda jerk,’” said Andries. “And many people remember sitting at stools similar to ours at drug stores and other ice cream shops.”

Schwan’s donated some of the ice cream to get the museum started for the grand opening.

The Lyon County Museum moved to its current location three years ago because of the need for more space. One of the main reasons for the move was so the museum would have room to set up the soda fountain and counter that was in storage.

Andries and her staff have worked tirelessly to improve the museum’s current three-story building that once housed the city library. Their goal was to be ready to showcase some of the remodeled floors by May, which is Minnesota Museums Month, a statewide celebration of events and exhibits at local museums.

The first floor’s grand opening was held in early May. The grand opening of the pioneer and early farming exhibits located in the basement, as well as the dedication of the new outside flagpole, were also held on May 28.

But the museum’s main attraction for visitors of all ages is undoubtedly the retro ice cream parlor.

“We’ve heard a lot of good things about the parlor,” said Andries. “It was a lot of work to complete, but I think it’s all well worth it.”

For those old enough to remember the ice cream shops of the ‘50s, it’s a trip down memory lane. For those too young to recall that bygone era, this may be the beginning of a lasting memory.

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