Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Isaly Dairy Plant

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Former Isaly Dairy Plant, June 2019. Photo © Bob Trube, all rights reserved

Fifty years ago, the September 12, 1969 Vindicator announced that Isaly’s would no longer make ice cream at its Mahoning Avenue plant on the West Side. This meant a loss of twenty of the 120 jobs at the plant. At the time H. William Isaly, the president of Isaly’s at the time, explained that they were consolidating ice cream production in the Pittsburgh plant. They would continue the processing of milk, cottage cheese, fruit juices, and other staples, as well as its home delivery and distribution operations.

At the time he said, further cutdowns were “unlikely.” He was asked about a rumor that the plant would be turned into a warehouse. Ominously, he said that was always “a possibility” but not something they planned to do “at this time.”

“At this time” only lasted a year. In 1970, the iconic art deco plant was closed and remained empty until occupied by U-Haul in 1987. U-Haul still operates the site, which has not seen significant improvements other than re-facing part of the building and painting it to advertise its storage facilities.

The closure of the Isaly plant would be followed in two years by sale of the company. The company had been declining throughout the 1960’s, and the job reductions and plant closure in Youngstown were just part of a bigger problem. The decline of home deliveries and their loose corporate structure (many stores were independently owned) made them less competitive in an environment of more centralized and standardized businesses. In the 1980’s, the Isaly name began a comeback, based in Pittsburgh selling meats (“chip chopped ham”!) and sauces as well as ice cream, but not Klondikes, which are owned by Unilever.

Isaly’s got its start in Mansfield, Ohio in 1902, then acquired a plant in Marion, Ohio in 1914. In 1918, Isaly’s came to Youngstown, purchasing the Farmers’ Dairy plant at the Mahoning Avenue location. Chester Isaly moved to Youngstown to manage the plant with an initial investment of $100,000 in improvements. In the 1930’s, they redesigned the exterior with an art deco look with a central, five story tower that some say resembled a milk bottle. Charles F. Owsley was the architect and they spent $400,000 on this project. At its peak, this was one of eleven plants Isaly’s operated across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and had over 400 stores.

I remember going to the plant, which had an ice cream counter, to get skyscraper cones when I was a kid. Isaly’s used a special scoop to serve the cone, about four inches of ice cream atop the cone, reminiscent of a skyscraper. Compared to the Dairy Cream, which served soft serve vanilla and chocolate, this was ice cream heaven with dozens of flavors of creamy, rich ice cream.

The picture above was taken during a recent visit to Youngstown. The building could probably use some sprucing up, but stands as a monument to a once-great company, preserving the art deco architecture of the 1930’s that swept Youngstown at that time. For many of us, it preserves memories of wonderful ice cream in a distinctive cone.

19 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Isaly Dairy Plant

  1. Bob
    Great article bringing back many happy memories of sky scraper cones. My favorite was Whitehouse. Yummy! What was yours?

    Thanks!
    Michelle Humans White

  2. My parents met there while working in the store. Dad became a milkman after WWII and I worked in the ice cream dept during the summer in my college days.

  3. Met my wife (Nancy Wayland) there while working part time in the office. Lawsons put a real hurt on Isaly’s. Their stores were small restaurants that did not work. Too much fixed cost. Such a shame.

  4. My Dad worked in the ice cream production area. Once it closed he had to deliver milk until the plant shut down. He took a job with Borden’s delivering milk for about a year until he went to work for Pepsi. He worked on Marshall St until Pepsi closed their production down and he was forced to work at the Twinsburg plant! I remember the Isaly family had a farm. Don’t remember the exact location but it was in Mahoning County.

  5. My father worked for Isaly in the 1950s. Workers were allowed to eat all the ice cream they wanted and on several occasions he froze is stomach and had to eat baby food for several days until his stomach recovered.

    On a separate note I was told that Chester Isaly was always fascinated with ships, so building was designed with a simulated mast on one side where he could stand in his office and overlook the building as well as the city. Similar to a ship captain. Don’t know the truth to that story, just something I was told.

  6. My dad drove a delivery truck in Cortland in the 50’s until they closed. I remember going to the building and getting the skyscraper cones. My favorite was butterscotch. I remember getting our milk delivered in the box on the front porch in the bottles. The good old days.

  7. My father was a longtime employee of Italy’s. I loved going to The Mahoning Ave plant, sitting at the ice cream counter with a skyscraper in my hands . Then there was Italy Dairy day at Idora Park . Such wonderful memories of my childhood. Love Isalys!!!

  8. My grandfather Peter Vlasic lived across the street. Every time we visited Youngstown, Grampa would hold our hands and walk across the street to get that special ice cream cone.. I was 10 -12;then. Now 80, the memories still linger of the happy days in Youngstown.. Precious memories.💜

  9. Enjoyed a tour of the plant when I was in grade school at Woodside. I recall being so impressed. At Christmas, I loved seeing the larger than life Nativity scene on the hill.

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