Sweetness

A day trip to Brenham brings creamy cold summer heat relief

Posted 8/6/19

[Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series about travel destinations from Madison County easily made in a day. Future installments will include fun family trips, educational opportunities and state landmarks.]

Only in Texas would residents drive about 70 miles for ice cream and not be branded a lunatic.

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Sweetness

A day trip to Brenham brings creamy cold summer heat relief

Posted

[Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series about travel destinations from Madison County easily made in a day. Future installments will include fun family trips, educational opportunities and state landmarks.]

Only in Texas would residents drive about 70 miles for ice cream and not be branded a lunatic.

Well, not just for the dessert, but to spy the source of so much happiness over the years. A trip to Brenham and the Blue Bell Creameries remains a sweet destination that encompasses history, scenery and, of course, ice cream.

The “Little Creamery,” as it’s also known, lies just over an hour’s drive south from Madisonville. The majority of the trip will keep you on Highway 90, which turns into TX-105 just before passing through Navasota.

Brenham is the county seat of Washington County, also home to Washington-on-the-Brazos, the birthplace of Texas. It is also considered the heart of the Central Texas bluebonnet region, which helped inspire the iconic creamery to identify as “Blue Bell Ice Cream” in 1930.

By all accounts, the creamery is the true heart of Brenham. It is one of the few places where spoiling your dinner with dessert is not only tolerated but encouraged. However, before we get into my experience with the famous dessert, it is necessary to first indulge in the history that made Blue Bell what it is today.

At the end of a particularly steamy summer in 1907, the Brenham Creamery Company formed to purchase excess dairy products from farmers and produce butter for local sales. In 1911, the Creamery began making ice cream, producing a maximum of two gallons each day.

Today, Brenham’s facility alone can produce over 50 half gallons per minute.

E.F. Kruse, who managed the Creamery from 1919 to 1951, changed the company’s name to Blue Bell Creameries in 1930. Management set the tone for careful business practices and respect for tradition during the early years of the company. Under the Kruse family’s leadership, business expanded into markets outside of their original home.

Blue Bell has since become one of the most successful ice cream brands in the United States with a focus on their country origins and quality ingredients.

While working my way up to the ice cream parlor and sky deck, where you have a front row seat to the production process, I was able to enjoy the creamery’s history through artifacts inside the visitor’s center and statues on the grounds.

In the garden, with the height of the factory dominating nearby, stands three memorialized members of the Kruse family. Statues of E.F. Kruse and his sons, Ed and Howard, are depicted huddling around one another, perhaps making a decision that would help immortalize the company during the early years.

Anyone who has enjoyed Blue Bell ice cream can likely attest to the company’s logo, a young girl holding a bucket in one hand while pulling a cow with another. This timeless image comes alive in the same garden that celebrates the legacy of the Kruse family.

The “Cow and Girl” logo, as it is termed by a plaque next to the statue, was created in the 1970s to capture the facility’s country image.

Entering the visitor’s center can feel like entering another time period. In the courtyard sits an original model of the trucks used to deliver Blue Bell Ice Cream in the early days of the company. Just inside the doorway sits an authentic 1920s doctor’s buggy that was featured in their tour film, “Blue Bell: Then and Now.”

The museum itself, which is located inside the visitor’s center, tells the story of the company that began as a local creamery and morphed into a national brand through the years. There are miniature displays set up for children to enjoy as well as a turquoise freezer from the 1930s, which produced individual batches of ice cream.

Children will also enjoy the many displays of empty ice cream cartons, often arranged in a pyramid style, which can give one a sense of the many flavors produced by the creamery.

The natural progression is to check out the grounds and museum before the sky deck and ice cream parlor, but it may be wise for parents to save the educational aspects for last and get the children their dessert before the constant and enticing reminders overwhelm their patience.

Unless you want to purchase something from the country store gift shop, you will just need one dollar per person. It is completely free to view the exhibits on the grounds and visitor’s center as well as the sky deck.

The parlor, gift shop and sky deck are each located on the second floor. It is essentially a very large ice cream shop, except it is cheaper than what you would typically find in stores. Visitors walk through the parlor, beyond the serving station and country store, to reach the sky deck.

Today, the sky deck itself is the closest thing you will get to an actual tour of the production facilities. Two sets of wide windows allow visitors to look down on the warehouse and get a sense of all the little things that go into the process of making their favorite ice cream.

When I came to the facility, I was under the impression that they still offered the traditional tours. However, upon speaking with one of the many employees they have on standby at the sky deck to answer any questions and discourage visitors from taking pictures of the workers below, I learned that the company stopped offering the tours after the infamous 2015 recall.

The employee told me that the facility is simply not made for constant outside foot traffic. He also informed me that all Blue Bell workers eat for free.

“We eat all we can, and we sell the rest,” he stated proudly.

The contamination has been widely documented nationally, so I will not get into specifics in this piece.

I could not help but wonder just how awkward it must be for the workers to go about their daily agendas with countless eyes of spectators peering down on them. However, much like professional athletes and celebrities, they seemed completely unaware of the viewers while they went about their business.

Finally, it was time to indulge.

My trip concluded with a visit to the serving station in the parlor. Customers had a choice of over 60 flavors to choose from and each “scoop” was just a dollar (they called it a “scoop”, but the serving filled an entire cup and was enough to satisfy even the hungriest sweet-tooth).

Despite all of the creative options, I decided to spend my dollar on a cup of the famous homemade vanilla ice cream, to coincide with all of the traditions that came to my attention throughout the afternoon.

It was then I decided to take a step back and simply enjoy the atmosphere (any my ice cream). It crossed my mind that there are hardly any places for a family of five to spend an enjoyable afternoon and spend next to no money while doing so.

It all culminates in the upstairs parlor, which was crowded but spacious, where the entire family can come together with one another and enjoy “The Best Ice Cream in the Country.”

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