By Jaimie Julia Winters
Applegate Farm on Grove Street has survived the Civil War, the Great Depression and two World Wars. Begun as a dairy farm in the 1800s, in the 1900s the farm also began serving ice cream. Although the cows and milk deliveries are long gone, the ice cream and the charm of farm still keep customers coming from miles away. Fall is the perfect time to visit Applegate and to enjoy some its seasonal flavors such as pumpkin and apple ice creams.
Donna Grieves grew up on the farm in the 1940s and 1950s when it was still a dairy farm. In the early 1800s, the farm was owned and operated by the Sigler family. The farm was known for its quality Golden Guernsey milk products. In the late 1800s, Julian Tinkham took over the the farm. Frank Oliver, Grieve’s grandfather, joined Tinkham in the late 1920s with many new ideas, including perfecting the first ice cream cone at Applegate Farm. Oliver served the first Applegate ice cream cone in 1932. Just before to WWII, Oliver hired his son-in-law, Donald Littlefield, as a driver. Littlefield was Grieve’s father.
Littlefield went from delivering milk and serving ice cream to expanding the business after WWII.
Grieves said she and her three brothers started working at a young age on the farm. The days were early and long. Although the cows had been moved to Hackettstown, the milk was delivered to the farm, where it was bottled and loaded into delivery trucks.
“The delivery men would come at the crack of dawn. I remember at a young age answering the phones and even helping with some of the deliveries. We also had trash duty, as my father never wanted to see a piece of paper on the ground,” Grieves said, adding that they were always paid a small “salary.”
Littlefield introduced many new seasonal novelty frozen treats, such as Santas and Turkeys during the holidays that were sold at bakeries and markets throughout the metropolitan area. .
“I remember the big heavy molds that were used to create these holiday forms,” Grieves said.
They were also the taste testers.
“We would sit around the kitchen table tasting the chocolate ice cream made from the chocolate from the German chocolate makers,” said Grieves.
Her father also expanded beyond the basic vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice creams to more flavors such as pistachio, coffee, eggnog and Dutch apple.
“My father would only use the best ingredients such as pistachios freshly roasted nearby. And it was never colored green,” Grieves said.
The offerings expanded to 25 to 30 flavors, and sherbert as well.
Although their ice cream intake was severely limited as children “we needed a permission slip to get ice cream from the dairy bar men” and they had chores to do, living on the farm was a charmed life, said Grieves.
In addition to the milk delivery, the ice cream makers and the dairy bar men, the place was always bustling with people. In those days the farm extended for 10 acres and area residents were welcomed to set up small victory gardens. And in the winter, the hill was open for all to go for sleigh rides. All were welcome, said Grieves.
“My grandfather knew tough times, she said. “It was simpler times, so a sleigh ride or a little patch of a garden for vegetables went a long way in making people happy.”
And his son made sure the ice cream was affordable at 15 cents a single scoop.
“My grandfather kept prices down saying, ‘If they are having a rough time, they could always come to the farm to spend time under the chestnut tree and have an ice cream cone.’ They could afford that,” said Grieves.
Grieves said many times they would wake up to a box of unwanted animals, so kittens and puppies were always present
As for the rumor that the farm was part of the Underground Railroad, Grieves said one day her brother and her discovered a room in the back of the red house underneath the office.
“The room was not connected to any other rooms in the house or the basement; it was only accessible from the outside. There were two bunk beds and we found a crock with a rooster on it,” said Grieves.
They took the crock to their mother, who put it back and told them never to go in the room again.
“And we never did. It was never talked about. What it was, we don’t know. It could have a been room for farm workers,” she said.
In the 1970s when milk became readily available in grocery stores, the family got out of the milk delivery business and concentrated solely on ice cream. In 1980, the family sold the business, and then later the land, to Betty Vhay. In 1991, Vhay transferred ownership to her nephew, Jason Street, who owns it today.
Today you cans still see the original farm house, as well as an authentic tile silo, one of three built in New Jersey in 1919. It is the perfect stop on a fall day.
The farm will hold an Oktoberfest on Oct. 6 with pumpkin painting, a clown, music, treats such as cider, pumpkin and apple pies and caramel apples and of course, an ice cream eating contest.