By Bill Powers
In 1972 while on a lengthy road trip to California, we discovered A&W Root Beer stands while traveling through the mid-west and western states. We left the interstates, when it was time to fuel up the Ford Pinto and to grab a bite to eat. It was summer and it was hot! The Pinto was not equipped with air conditioning. Driving through the center of a small town in Iowa, just off Interstate 80, we spotted an A&W Root Beer stand where they served little more than the root beer at curbside. It was a day to remember, not only since It was a very hot day and we were parched, but it was the first time that we, including my wife, and our son, had ever experienced a root beer float. We had previously enjoyed drinking root beer and eating vanilla ice cream but not a mixture consisting of the two. On that sweltering day, the combination served in a frosted mug was such an incredible event that we vowed to stop at every A&W Root Beer stand that we came across for the rest of the trip for root beer floats. It was a vow that we kept, and something that we to looked forward to after long hours of driving.
The trip was broken up by visits to a number of National Parks. On our return trip from California, we changed our route to include Rocky Mountain National Park. It was there while sitting by a roaring mountain stream and enjoying a picnic lunch that I was treated to my first ever Coors beer. It was wonderful. In those days it wasn’t available east of the Mississippi. It was unpasteurized and contained no preservatives. It was truly an unforgettable “Rocky Mountain High!” A few months later John Denver’s recording was released and to this day each time that I hear it, I visualize that beautiful mountain view, and for some reason get thirsty.
In the March issue of Neighbors, I wrote about the Hampton General Store. When visiting the store, I was taken back to my youth and a similar store in Glover, Vermont where, from time to time, I had vacationed with relatives in the Northeast Kingdom of the state. Whether visiting in Vermont or at the Hampton General Store, it was like stepping back into the general stores of the 1800s. Now, I often stop by the Hampton store in order to bring home one of the many delicious ‘Take and Bake’ meals that are available and some of the home baked goodies.
Six months ago, when talking to Kara Hicks, who reopened and runs the Hampton General Store, one of her upcoming goals was to provide soda fountain treats for customers at the marble soda fountain counter, which she had recently located in Stamford, CT, purchased and had installed. At the time I asked her if by any chance she would be offering root beer floats and was delighted to hear her say, “Absolutely!” The soda fountain is up and running and in addition to root beer floats, there are shakes, malts and many kinds of ice cream sodas to be had. She offers many delights using ice cream and her home-made brownies and cookies for brownie Sundays, cookie specials and brownie ice cream sandwiches.
The Hampton Congregational Church is celebrating their 300th anniversary this year and they have scheduled special events to honor this notable achievement. On Sunday November 12, the Band of Steady Habits will appear at the church at 3P.M. and on December 3, Rick Spencer will perform at “11ish” (after Sunday services). The Band of Steady Habits, led by our previous State Historian, Walt Woodward will be providing music, singing and providing historical facts about the Congregational Church. The following month Rick Spencer, known for his historical music programs will perform a selection of Christmas songs popular at the end of the 1800s. I have heard both the Band and Rick perform several times and they are consummate musicians and proficient historians. Be sure to witness these performances that will be complete with unique historical themes. And take the opportunity to explore the Hampton General Store just across the street from Hampton Congregational Church. Check out the soda fountain and perhaps partake of a ROOT BEER FLOAT!
The photo views Hampton General Store’s Kara Hicks creating a special soda fountain treat for a customer.
Bill Powers is a retired Hartford and Windham Public Schools teacher who writes a regularly appearing local history column for the Willimantic Chronicle.