The most recent Sunday edition of The Advocate-Messenger carried an interesting perception of Danville from 1930-1940. The information centered on the Swiss Sanitary Milk Co. that was located on the corner of Main Street and Wilderness Road. The building remains in place and has been unoccupied for decades. None among us, however, who lived here during that time frame, will ever forget the famous corner of delights.
A surprise revealed in the article was that in 1937 this ‘nook on the corner’ sold 39,000 gallons of ice cream and ices to those who entered the spick and span parlor of pure caloric and cataclysmic sugar.
Think of it; 39,000 gallons in 1937. That’s 3,250 gallons each month. It’s 812.5 gallons every week. Each day provided 116-plus gallons, and in a 10-hour day, 11.6 gallons were scooped, licked, swallowed, and digested every hour!
Alas, this corner once held the distinction of being the place to go for ice cream. Oh, we had drug stores that sold cream and sodas along with sundaes, of course. And during the summer months, a horse drawn ice cream wagon made the rounds of neighborhoods and was announced by a ringing bell you could hear from two blocks away. This was a picture of Danville in the summertime that held its own drama with children running with nickels and dimes and specific requests.
But the “Swiss” was where you could find the flavors, the taste, and where you could actually chew the cherries embedded in the cream. It was nothing to bite into half a large cherry and spend extra time to masticate the morsel prior to slipping it over the taste buds.
“I’ll meet you at the Swiss,” was a common refrain. Everyone knew what it was and where it was, and hundreds of people in a week and thousands in a month would enter the emporium to satisfy the nudge of “a dear little something to eat.”
In June 1937, I was 5 years old. Yes, you’re right, Moses had just missed the Swiss, but that’s another story. I knew what and where the Swiss was and what it possessed. I had a favorite flavor, but was open to any new offering. It was here I first saw a cone designed for two dips.
Normally, one dip was plopped on top of the other, but the Swiss had a cone designed for both dips to be in separate depositories on the same horizontal level at the top of the inverted tepee. You could lick one and then the other, or you could lick both in a wide circle and keep them the same size. There was a trick to it, but 5-year-old Munchkins knew, by some internal guiding system, just how to lick and keep them similar in size.
Saturday afternoons and nights were always “gangbuster” affairs. One could hardly walk on the streets without bumping, shoving, holding or pushing through the crowds of people who had “come to town.” Our county residents tried to stop their work at noon and come to town for groceries, clothing necessities and social activities. To walk downtown today is to feel the departure of all that once was and all that made the weekend special.
The favorite activity of many, during that time, was to have a family member park the family car in a spot selected for the balance of the afternoon and evening. It would be left in place until about 4 p.m. The family members would then walk to town, take their seats for the parade to follow, and then, in one of the most important moments, walk down the hill to the Swiss.
Often, upon arrival, one could not get in the door. Ice cream was being loaded on cones and people were revolving through the place as if on conveyor belts. Patience was needed, and 5-year-old boys were not often noted for their patience.
Thirty-nine thousand gallons of ice cream in 12 months. I did my part, but a 5-year-old glutton was handicapped by a lack of funds.
Edward Clark is a Danville businessman and community columnist for The Advocate-Messenger.