The influential Bennett family is savoring their ice cream for generations.
Sisters Ella Jane Willson, 2, and Sophie Timmons, 9, the family’s sixth generation, visited the Old Depot Museum for the first time Wednesday, their excited exclamations echoing as they darted through the hallways and rooms discovering their family history.
“Was this really here?” Timmons said, with her hands pressed to a stainless-steel counter top in one room, positioned where her great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather likely once wiped away drips of the creamy treat. She said her favorite flavor is vanilla, picking from a list that includes Neapolitan, lemon and cherry vanilla.
Affirmative nods came from her grandparents, Doug and Stephanie Bennett, and her mother, Bethanie Willson, who are well-versed in their family’s backstory of Bennett Creamery Co., which started in Ottawa in the early 1900s.
The soda fountain shop display at the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, resembles the setup at the former retail store, once located just north of the Marais des Cygnes River, and other satellite shops across town, Stephanie Bennett said.
“There was even a little bitty one over in that antique store that just closed,” Doug Bennett said. “Dad and I used to go before he died and we got the malts. Before that, it was a Coke plant.”
But even before flavors and cones and other treats, the company first was an ice plant founded in 1901 by B.D. Bennett, Doug Bennett’s great-grandfather, according to an Ottawa Herald archived at the Franklin County Kansas Historical Portal. Stephanie Bennett, referencing a news memo, said he worked until he was 94 years old.
Bennett Ice Co. was expected to be in operation day and night to supply the city and surrounding area from a 16-foot-wide well, located next to cold storage space later used for the creamery, records indicated.
When the company eventually was sold to Dillons, Doug Bennett said, he worked in the Ottawa freezer as well as drove truckloads of ice cream to stores in Lawrence and Manhattan.
A typical load once included 4,000 gallons of ice cream or ice milk and 5,600 novelties, according to a document kept by Stephanie Bennett.
The Bennett company also contributed to the Jackson Ice Cream Co.’s success, a subsidiary of the Dillons organization in 1963, the document said. An acquisition of a new plant in 1966 increased annual production potential to 3 million gallons, the document said.
The family name still is well-known in Ottawa, but Stephanie Bennett said all Bennetts have moved out of town. They now live in Overland Park.
“We’re fading away, I just want to keep us,” Stephanie Bennett said, which is why she wanted her granddaughters to see what’s left of the family legacy.
Items for show in upstairs rooms in the Old Depot Museum include Bennett’s ice cream packaging, trays, various signs, an ice worker’s uniform and a metal milk barrel used for home deliveries.
“Little bit different than what things are today,” Doug Bennett said. “All those days are gone when doctors and others would come to your house. They used to do that here when I was their age.”
Stephanie Bennett was delighted by a handwritten menu propped up in one glass display. She and Doug, high school sweethearts, said the retail store served food as a side to ice cream.
“Thirty-six cents for a roast beef sandwich? Look at this. Five cents for a beef sandwich,” Stephanie Bennett said.
“How did people make it back then with that amount of money?” Doug Bennett said.
Beside the menu were heart-shaped and pineapple-shaped molds that once formed the ice cream.
“They were wrapped individually in papers. It was distributed to the stores in boxes that way,” Stephanie Bennett said.
“And it wasn’t all vanilla,” Doug Bennett said. “Like at Christmas, it was green ice cream like a tree with decorations on it.”
Christmas tree and Santa Claus molds have been passed on to the granddaughters, Stephanie Bennett said, even though they don’t make ice cream anymore.
Timmons joined her grandparents to see the items.
“Don’t we have those?” Timmons said pointing to a pair of ice tongs behind the display glass.
As the company evolved to also manufacture butter, condensed milk, powdered milk and ice milk mix, it was sold in an eight-state area in the Midwest as well as to the two coasts, according to a document dated 1956 kept by Stephanie Bennett.
“I love milk,” Timmons said. “Milk is good for you. It makes you strong and it also makes you sleep well.”
Amelia Arvesen is a Herald staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AmeliaArvesen.