Cudmore: Tollner’s Ice Cream in Fort Johnson


A banana split at Tollner’s Ice Cream on Route 5 in Fort Johnson was the start of a beautiful relationship for Barry and Barbara Chase who now live in Edinburg.

Barry Chase originally of Fish House Road in Galway and Barbara Schmidt of Caroline Street in Amsterdam were cruising in separate cars along Main Street in the Carpet City in the late 1950s.  Barbara’s friend Dottie Foss was in the group and intended to match her friend with Barry, home from the U.S. Navy.

They ended up at Tollner’s, where Barbara, who loved ice cream, ordered only a cone to be polite.  Dottie insisted that Barry buy Barbara a banana split.  The deal was sealed and they married in 1961.

Barry and Barbara have six children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  One of their daughters, Susan Lamere, lives in Perth.  Barry served 22 years with the Navy and 15 years with General Electric.

Barbara’s late brother-in-law, Bud Sherman, worked as a soda jerk at Tollner’s for a time.

Tollner’s occupied a white building on Route 5 near the railroad tracks west of the main gate for St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Johnson.

Willis Tollner, Sr., started the ice cream shop with his father, carpenter Fred Tollner, in 1935.

Tollner’s offered ice cream to go in quarts, half gallons and cones plus sundaes, banana splits and their famous Brown Cow, a chocolate milkshake. They also provided hamburgers, hot dogs and car hop service.  Often they stayed open until midnight.  They took out ads for ladies who wanted to be car hops.

Jerry Snyder of Historic Amsterdam League recalled going to Tollner’s from Amsterdam with his father and grandfather,  “The three of us used to sit out on the porch after supper at my grandparents’ house across from the Betz Funeral Home on Guy Park Avenue and watch the cars and people go by (mid-to late 1950s).  My grandparents never had a car and Grandpa would say to my father, ‘I’ll buy if you want to go get a Brown Cow.’  That was usually all it took to send us on a road trip to Fort Johnson.”

In April 1955 Tollner’s closed because of family illness.  Willis Tollner, Sr., died three months later at age 47.   Also in 1955 Willis’ father, Fred Tollner, and his wife, Mabel, retired and moved to Yonkers, where one of their daughters lived.  Fred died in 1957 at age 76.  Mabel passed way in Yonkers four months later.  They were buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Tribes Hill.

The family soldiered on.  Willis’ son Ron Tollner is remembered from the ice cream shop’s later years.  Tollner’s newspaper ads more frequently spoke of only being open weekends.

Tollner’s closed and the building was torn down along with many other structures when Route 5 in Fort Johnson and Tribes Hill was rebuilt as a four lane highway in the early 1960s.

In 1974, Mrs. Joseph Brunt, a longtime Fort Johnson resident, wrote a letter to the editor of The Recorder listing the many vanished businesses, including Tollner’s, that she recalled in Fort Johnson: “Whalen’s store-post office, Scotts Ice Cream parlor and gas station, Sweet’s furniture, Colangelo’s fish market, Bonus market, Hoggins trucks, Firth barbershop, Horigan’s barbershop, Oarr’s garage, Bennett convalescent home, Richfield gas, Iacono’s fruit and grocery, Wilde’s garage, Ehmer’s traveling grocery and meats, Dr. Smyth and Grace Church. Before I came here there were more: Mosher’s grocery, Stoddard’s grocery, Brunt & Son grocery, Osterhout’s market, Marshall’s general store and post office, Shepard’s Coal, Schwab’s barbershop, Aiken Park roller skating and A.V. Morris knitting mills that burned.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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