Old-Fashioned Soda Fountains
In the Upper East Side of Texas, one way to enjoy a cool treat during a sweltering summer is the old-fashioned way, with a beverage mixed behind an antique counter at a local soda fountain. While soda fountains and general stores leave some misty eyed with faded memories, these businesses are far from extinct visions of the past. Several locations are scattered about Northeast Texas, boasting hidden historical secrets and an array of all-American frozen treats.
The Jefferson General Store is renowned for sending its customers back to simpler times. Constructed in the 1860’s, the building served as a hardware store and the warehouse retains the air of a lingering past that hails from the days of “the heyday of the steamboat traffic.”
“What we have tried to do with the store is keep it as authentic as possible,” owner Cliff Bode said. “It still has the original pine floor, the old ceiling fans and the old mercantile counters and fixtures. It looks like a typical general store of the 1870’s. The only thing different would be that we have current merchandise. We have a lot of old-style nostalgia displayed in the store to give it that feel. We try as much as possible to retain that atmosphere.”
The building was originally owned by the Dalauff family, and stayed under their management for more than 100 years until it was purchased by the Meyers family. In 1979, Cliff purchased the building that would become the Jefferson General Store as it is known today.
“As a hardware store, it did not have a soda fountain,” he said. “I added the soda fountain when I acquired the building. We found an old bar from another store down in Central Texas. I put that in and made it functional. It looks like it has been there forever, but the fountain wasn’t there originally. We did decide that that would add to the atmosphere. It is something for the kids. The parents like to let them experience that because there are not that many working soda fountains anymore.”
Children who visit the Jefferson General Store are met with an abundance of merchandise that ranges from delicious to bizarre with products such as root beer floats and bacon or peanut-butter and jelly-flavored sodas. However, tiny toddlers are not the only customers seeking out the General Store’s nostalgic treats. Celebrities such as Don Henley, George and Laura Bush, Joe Nichols, and Cybill Shepherd have stopped by to taste a sweet soda and revel in the building’s unique history.
“We love owning a building with such a rich history. We enjoy that there is something for all ages here. Grandpa likes to come in and reminisce about the old days and the general stores, and, of course, likes to bring in the grandkids so they can get a taste of it, too. It’s real important to us to preserve the history of the store and this town.”
The Soda Jerk in Canton also believes in creating a nostalgic atmosphere and brings its customers back to the fifties with classic music playing and timeless movie posters adorning the walls. Pieces such as a juke box from 1948 and barstools from the 1920’s salvaged from old general stores and antique shops also add to the historical accuracy.
“This building wasn’t always a soda fountain,” manager Judith Turner said. “It was built at the turn of the century, and its first owner was Z.W. Moore. He ran a clothing and dry goods store.”
While selling gallons of bottled syrup and hay bales was Z.W. Moore’s specialty, Judith serves up cool, signature, fifties-style drinks from a vintage 1946 soda fountain.
“When people think of a 50’s diner or soda fountain, they think of old-fashioned sodas. An old-fashioned soda is like a float, except it is any kind of beverage you want with the ice cream whisked into it. It’s an endless array of flavors that you could have.”
Unique beverages such as the old-fashioned soda have been constant fixtures at America’s soda fountains and general stores since their creation, and evoke fond memories in the minds of the generations that remember them best. Judith serves visitors of all ages, and The Soda Jerk often acts as a homey meeting place. Family members who live great distances from one another will often congregate at this soda fountain to reunite, sometimes visiting for two to three hours at a time.
“The soda fountains were a family thing,” Judith said. “That’s where the mothers and dads took their kids to get soda. That’s very important. I still get families that come in here with their kids. They always want a soda at the counter, because that’s the way it was done.”
Jennifer Wagner, manager and owner of Atlanta’s Sunday Best Sandwich & Gift Shoppe hears about ‘the way it was done’ from her customers on a daily basis. This soda fountain sits along a time-worn sidewalk in Atlanta’s original downtown region. The vintage bar at Sunday Best Sandwich & Gift Shoppe and the “Wate and Fate” scale cause older customers to reminisce as they sip on the shop’s signature milkshakes, sharing memories from when they frequented this icon of local history years ago.
“It’s interesting to hear the stories,” Jennifer said. “I’ll have people come in and sit at the bar and say, ‘I remember coming here when I was little.’ I hear tons of childhood stories. Everybody has memories of this place. I’ll have people come in and order a soda and say, ‘I used to get one of these every day after school.’”
Sunday Best Sandwich & Gift Shoppe was known in the past by several other names, such as Walgreen’s or Tri-State Drug. At one time, the building housed nurses from the local Brooks Hospital, a business that closed down before Jennifer came to possess the soda fountain. The building has also functioned as a shoe shop, and once held a dentist’s office in its second story. These businesses served the demographic that Jennifer explains consists of customers mainly 35 and over.
“It’s pretty neat to run a building with so many historic pieces,” she said. “Everyone loves to see the old Green Stamps we keep in a case. Customers see them and say, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember using those!’”
The multiple shelves of the old-style shotgun building display other memorabilia from past decades, including dusty typewriters, vintage advertisements, and black-and-white photos of past owners and customers.
“We are trying not to be too new or contemporary,” Jennifer said. “I like it like this. The store is a mix of vintage and modern, but we don’t want to take away from the old feel.”
Whether one is sharing tales of past school days with loved ones or sipping a beverage that had been nearly forgotten in the whirl of years flying by, one thing is certain; sampling a few of these soda fountains could possibly leave one’s mind and taste buds frozen in time.
Besides these three operating soda fountains, check out the San Augustine Drug Company, Miller’s Pharmacy in Cooper, and CJ’s Soda Fountain & Restaurant in Pittsburg. Let us know if you discover others in the Upper East Side of Texas.