Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Turkey Hill Experience

The Turkey Hill Experience
Lancaster County / Columbia, PA

Front Entrance to the Tour
One of my favorite hangouts as a kid was the local Turkey Hill Minit Market along Route 501 outside my hometown of Lititz.  It was a treat to head down the hill with the gang to get an ice cold Coke or cherry flavored slushy and a pack of your favorite Tastykakes.  I still wish I had the $50,000 dollars worth of quarters I dumped into the Asteroids arcade game inside the store during the summer of 1978!  It was all the rage when the plastic slushy baseball batting helmets came out.  I wanted to get them all and even tried to get "one up" on my friends by visiting Turkey Hill stores in nearby towns to try and get the teams they didn’t.  The dairy part of the store never entered my mind but it did provide another opportunity for a slushy every-time we ran out of milk!  My father’s choice of beverage was an ice-cold tall glass of milk and every-time he went for his fix and the jug was empty, an interrogation was sure to follow.  However, one benefit of having a little brother is the ability to pass the blame.  Sorry Scott!  

Pictures of the Dairy's History
(Photo Credits / Turkey Hill Archives)
Unknown to us kids, the real heart of the Turkey Hill convenience store empire was milk.  The company’s whole operation started out on a small farm owned by a man named Armor Frey in southern Lancaster County.  Mr. Frey began selling his surplus milk in glass bottles to his neighbors during the Great Depression to earn a little extra money.  As time went by, he slowly expanded his route and figured out a way to make it a full time occupation.  The name Turkey Hill comes from the area where the Frey farm was located in Lancaster County.  The area was given its name by the local Susquehannock Indians, who hunted turkeys on the nearby ridge.  The name also appears in the original deed of the Frey family’s land, granted by the son of William Penn.  As he grew older, Armor Frey sold his growing little business to his three sons, who planned to continue what their father started.      

History of the Dairy Exhibit
Glenn, Emerson, and Charles Frey took over their fathers dairy business in 1947 and were able to sustain and grow their customer base across Lancaster County.  In 1980 the brothers decided to enter into ice-cream production, which became a good seller across the county.  The Frey brothers decided to target a larger market base and took their dairy products to the big city of Philadelphia.  A few store chains agreed to give the Turkey Hill name brand a try on a trial basis.  The high quality ice-cream with a reasonable price became an unbeatable combination in the Philadelphia area.   The ice-cream production of the company expanded as it became more and more popular in distant markets.  Today the Turkey Hill brand is sold across the country and is in the top five brands of ice-cream sold in America.  Turkey Hill also became well known for their popular ice tea products with a variety of flavors.  Today they are the top selling bottled tea brand in the country.  In addition, the company expanded their number of minit markets in operation, now totaling 230 convenience stores across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
  Ashley + Bailey Silk Mill
(Photo Credit / Lancaster Newspapers)
The latest addition to the growing Turkey Hill dairy empire is the new Turkey Hill Experience along Route 30 in Columbia, Pennsylvania.  The property was previously an old silk mill from the industrial days of Columbia’s strong economic history.  The Ashley and Bailey Silk Mill fell on hard times like the majority of textile industries in the northeast, following the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to foreign nations, who could offer cheaper sources of labor.  The site closed in 1895 and sat empty for the next quarter century, continuing to deteriorate and fall prey to the elements.   The former factory became an ivy-covered eyesore over the years, reducing it to little more than a four-story brick shell of its former self.  It was the first thing people saw along busy Route 30 as they passed by the Columbia exit, a negative three dimensional billboard for the financially struggling community.  Several business deals to revitalize the site were often discussed but never evolved into the developmental phase.  

Katelyn Making her Deliveries
Finally, Turkey Hill stepped up to the plate and chose the industrial brown site for their planned educational facility.  One of the best outcomes of the construction project was the company’s decision to incorporate the remaining shell of the original silk mill into the new facility’s design.  The end result was a 26,000 square foot center contained within the former worn brick walls of the old textile mill called The Turkey Hill Experience.  A mix of the old and the new was now the perfect image for the recovery of Columbia’s economic footprint within the state’s economy.  Once upon a time, Columbia was a thriving economic center of the nation and was even considered as a potential location for the nation’s capital.  Since then, the American economy slowly evolved into a service-based financial system, leaving manufacturing based communities like Columbia and the local hard working people behind.  Many hope the new center will help recovery take root, leading to continued development and much-needed accompanying job growth. 

A Couple of Cows
During the attraction’s construction, I was contacted by a production member of the site’s design team, asking for permission to use several of the photographs I had taken of Chickies Rock just north of Columbia.  I had posted many photos of Chickies Rock on my Flickr account online and it must have caught the attention of someone working on the new facility.  They were planning on devoting a section of the museum to Lancaster County and nearby sites of local interest.  I granted my permission but never heard anything back from the designer and was curious to see if they ever decided to use my images.  I grabbed my daughter Katelyn on a hot July afternoon to go see what The Turkey Hill Experience was all about.  I had read that Ice-cream production was the star attraction of the tour and thought it was a perfect summer day to investigate!  Katelyn was game and we were suddenly off on another full-filled adventure!
It's Milking Time
One nice thing about visiting The Turkey Hill Experience tourist attraction is it is very easy to find, right along the highway.  Upon arrival, the transformation of the former industrial factory was amazing.  The 12 million dollar project brought the site back to life once again.  It was a Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was crowded with visiting tourists, a good sign for the community.  Over the years, many people have requested Turkey Hill to make factory tours available to the public but the company was unable to deliver, stating it was not possible for various reasons.  The company had been looking for a way to offer consumers a way to view and learn about the production process of their line of popular products.  The plan was to create a Chocolate World like attraction off-site to safely provide a view to the ice-cream and iced tea production process open to the public.  The Turkey Hill Experience includes an interactive tour of factory themed exhibits, a creamery where you can buy delicious ice-cream creations, and of course... a gift shop.
The Tea Room
The company intended the admission fee for the tour to fall within the $5.00 to $10.00 range but ended up costing $13.00 for an adult admission.  This fact caused multiple complaints and criticism from early customers, leading to an announcement from the company that prices would be lowered by a dollar.   I agreed that the $12.00 admission was a steep price to pay to take in the tour and exhibits, especially since Chocolate World right up the road is free.  The “experience” begins with a section on the local history of the area from the first settlers of the local Native Americans who suffered from the arrival of their new European neighbors.  Next, are some side notes of local points of interest.  I was disappointed to discover they decided not to use my pictures of Chickies Rock, as all the photographs in the exhibit were provided by the local historical society.  Oh well, maybe next time.  Now on to the good stuff… ice-cream!  Turkey Hill is the official ice cream for the Philadelphia Phillies with Graham Slam and Batter Up, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Blitzburgh Crunch, the Philadelphia Eagles with Touchdown Sundae, and three additional flavors associated with the New York Yankees.  Hey, how did they get in there?  What about Pennsylvania's hockey teams?  After all, it's placed on ice!

Sports Themed Treats
--> A brief history of the dairy’s humble beginnings springs you onto the tasting ice-cream station.  It was a nice touch that you didn’t have to wait until the very end of the tour to get a taste of the action.  There were several accelerated films of ice-cream production from the factory that reminded Katelyn and I of Modern Marvels on the History Channel.  Close by was the World of Tea exhibit, which included a mini tea bar, where you could sample any flavor of tea you wanted.  We tried the blueberry flavored ice tea, which we both agreed was delicious.  I loved the throwback images of the company on display, including the old red and white signage with the black Indian silhouette from when I was a kid.  There was a fully restored company milk truck from the 1950’s era and a station where you could crate your own fantasy ice-cream flavor.  Many of the exhibits were geared to smaller kids, who seemed to be having a ball!  Overall, the museum was an interesting tour, accented with pleasant smells and delicious tastes.  However, the high cost of admission hurt my overall impression of the Turkey Hill Experience  
Former Ashley + Bailey Silk Mill
--> Hopefully the Turkey Hill Experience will exceed the company’s 250,000-350,000 visitors per year target to help spawn continued economic growth within Columbia.  The Creamery, located within the building, can be visited without admission to the museum through a separate entrance and is worth a visit by itself.  Katelyn had the chocolate-chip cookie dough and I went with chocolate marshmallow.  They were our standard usual flavors but guaranteed to please!  After our indulgence, we decided to work off our ice cream indulgence by hiking up to Chickies Rock just north of Columbia.  A nice combination for an ice-creamed themed adventure!   A double dip adventure in fact!
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