The Scoop on Ice Cream Socials

Since the mining era in Aspen, ice cream socials have been a popular summer gathering in the community. The tradition was not unique, as ice cream socials were widespread across North America dating back to the 1800s. The first ice cream social at the White House was hosted by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, who had learned of the chilly delicacy while abroad in France. In culinary notes he observed that “snow gives the most delicate flavor to creams, but ice is the most powerful congealer and lasts longer.”

In the early years of the nation, these cool celebrations were prevalent in late summer when, according to the legends, stored ice began to run out as summer temperatures soared. While there is no evidence of the ice running out in Aspen (perhaps due to high altitude temperatures) the community tradition of an ice cream social has been alive and well in the area since 1890 with ice cream available in town as early as 1881.

Hallam Lake, with the ice house in the left background, circa 1887. The Dance Pavilion is in the center, and the eating pavilion is on the right.

A truck hauling ice on a sled from Harry William’s pond on Snowmass Creek to the Gerbazhome, circa 1930.

In Aspen, snow and ice were abundant. Ice was stored at Hallam Lake and three other ice houses around town during the mining years. With summer temperatures warming the mountain valley, an ice cream social was a much anticipated and celebrated occasion. Mentions of the gatherings were prevalent in area newspapers of the time, such as this from the Aspen Daily Leader on June 23, 1892 “Don’t miss it. What? Why the ice cream social at the Y.M.C.A rooms this evening.” The Aspen Tribune announced another gathering in their July 13, 1897 issue: “There will be an entertainment and ice cream social tonight at old court house hall given by the Juvenile Templars.” Most of the events were free, some were hosted to raise funds for a “comrade” in need, and many included musical, theatrical, or literary performances to entertain the guests while they enjoyed their refreshing treats.

“The 5 Minute Acme Ice Cream Freezer” circa 1920
8.5″ x 13″ x 8.5″ metal ice cream maker that consists of a metal pail with a second container in the center that is turned by a crank on the top. Container also reads:”The durable, sanitary, all-metal Acme Freezer has no gears or other complicated parts to wear out. Produces smooth velvery ice cream, sherbets, or frozen pudding with 5 minutes easy turning. Saves ice, saves time, saves space.” Made in Philadelphia.

The tradition continued and even appeared to gain momentum through the quiet years in Aspen. On July 31, 1941, Lynn Chambers’ “Household News” column in The Aspen Times read: “Shining in their starched dresses, the girls are ready to “recite the pieces,” and the boys, slicked and combed, are watching them shyly, and everyone’s waiting for refreshment time to come. Of course, it’s an ice cream social, that typically American festival to which homemakers bring their most delectable cakes and choicest ice cream. There, too, you’ll find lemonade, “made in the shade by the old maid.” Lynn’s column goes on to elaborate on the hardships of making ice cream in years past and then rejoice in the ease of their modern-day mechanics: “Making ice cream in the freezer method is fun, and usually the whole family gets together to do some of the cranking.” The column then offers step-by-step instructions and detailed recipes for vanilla, banana, coffee, maple nut, chocolate, and tutti frutti ice creams: “If you would be famous for your ice creams and have them spoken of well at the social, follow directions to get the desirable smooth, creamy triumphs.”

Aspen Historical Society’s annual Ice Cream Social. Aspen Times, August 4, 1983

Aspen Historical Society’s annual Ice Cream Social. Aspen Times, July 28, 1983.

Aspen Historical Society’s annual Ice Cream Social. Aspen Times August 4, 1983.

Aspen Historical Society board of trustees and volunteers revamped the historic community tradition many years ago, and AHS has hosted an ice cream social ever since. The modern-day event features ice cream bowls and cones replete with toppings; and “Aspen Crud” boozy milkshakes, a prohibition-era favorite at the Hotel Jerome bar for adults. As with the original gatherings, music fills the air (thanks to Aspen Music Festival and School musicians) and guests can enjoy a theatrical performance of “A Briefly Complete History of Aspen,” a 45-minute crash course in Aspen history. We look forward to celebrating with our community each year with music, theater, fun for the whole family, and of course, ice cream!