The summer of 1964 was a busy time in Blawenburg. The Wally Byam Caravan arrived with 5,000 visitors (see blog 20), and the village saw its first and only franchise restaurant, Dairy Queen, open on the northwest corner of Routes 518 and 601. In this blog, we will remember the Dairy Queen.
This photo was taken in 1988, after the Dairy Queen had changed hands. It no longer had the Dairy Queen franchise and was known as the Hilltop Family Restaurant. The building looked similar to the original building.
The opening of the Dairy Queen in Blawenburg was a big deal. Until that time, the only village businesses at the crossroad were country stores, luncheonettes, and gas stations. Dairy Queen was in a different league – a well-known, national franchise.
In the early 1960s, Bill Wellemeyer, a local resident, ran the food concession in Jimmy Ajamian’s store on the northeastern side of the intersection of Routes 518 and 601. He had retired from the parts department of the Van Zandt’s farm supply store less than a block west of the crossroads.
Wellemeyer had his sights set on bigger stakes and wanted to open his own restaurant in Blawenburg. The problem was that the best location for the restaurant was occupied by a two-family house in which Bill and Grace Terhune lived on the first floor and Fanny Van Zandt lived above them. He didn’t let that deter him. He bought both the house where the Terhunes and Ms. Van Zandt lived and the lot behind it. He had the house moved to a new location where it still exists, adjacent to the railroad crossing on Hollow Road. He now had a cleared plot of land in the center of the village on which to build his dream restaurant.
Emma Tufano, who grew up in Montgomery, remembers, “Mr. Wellemeyer lived on Hollow Road. He sold his farm and built the Dairy Queen in front of the cemetery.” Wellemeyer found the Dairy Queen franchise to his liking and talked with the village residents about opening “a charming country establishment” before he undertook the project. His idea seemed to be accepted by the locals, and he proceeded to purchase the franchise and built the ice cream restaurant. It opened in 1964, in time for the Wally Byam Caravan to arrive. That good timing paid off!
As Wellemeyer learned after he opened the Dairy Queen, not everyone was thrilled with the barn-shaped building or the signage and lighting associated with the franchise. Some hadn’t fully understood that the “charming country establishment” was a Dairy Queen, and others objected to the bright yellow fluorescent lights. One person, who asked to remain anonymous, recalls that you could see those lights all the way down on Bedens Brook Road, a half mile away. For some, it didn’t seem to be in character for the historic village.