June 5, 2014

[Retro Roadmap] Milk Bottle Buildings of Southeastern Massachusetts

  • By: Beth Lennon

Credit: Tyler Machado, Flickr
Salvador’s Ice Cream was built in New Bedford, Mass., but the business and physical structure was moved to South Dartmouth in 1935.

During the first half of the 20th century, the towns on the southern coast of Massachusetts had the highest concentration of dairy farms in the entire state. While most of the fertile pasture land has long since been cut up by interstate highways and housing developments, a number of iconic and unusually shaped buildings remain standing from that time, serving as a reminder of when family-owned dairies dotted the then-rural landscape.

Milk Can, Salvador's Ice Cream (South Dartmouth, Mass.)

Credit: Beth Lennon
Salvador's first season was in spring 1936. Their most popular flavors were vanilla, butter pecan, and frozen pudding.

Well off the beaten path in South Dartmouth in a quiet area dotted with summer homes is an unusually shaped building known as Salvador’s Ice Cream. You can’t miss the 30-foot-tall structure -- affectionately called “The Can” by many locals -- because of its distinctive size and fact that it is shaped like an old-fashioned milk can. Of course, it comes with giant handles on either side of the curved top.

This building was moved from a New Bedford, Mass., amusement park to this rural location in 1935 to be used as an addition to the dairy farm and milk business established by the Salvador family. The family sold their own home-made ice cream from the distinctive structure during the warmer months when the area would be flooded with vacationers returning to their summer homes.

The milk can remained in the Salvador family until 2005 when it was purchased by current owners Len and Beth Gauvin, an electrician and school teacher respectively. Len was looking for something to keep him busy in the summer months when he discovered the can was for sale. He and his family had their work cut out for them as the entire base of the wooden structure was rotted and needed a new foundation.

Credit: Beth Lennon
The structure was fully renovated and reopened for business on August 12, 2005.

The entire can was lifted from its original location and moved just a few feet to the side while a new foundation was poured. Once transferred back to the site, the can was fully repaired and given a fresh coat of paint matching the original white and green color scheme. They then added cheery striped awnings and placed a life-sized cow statue atop the building -- a replica of the one that originally graced the top but had been knocked down and damaged in the hurricane of 1938.

Open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Gauvin family has expanded the offerings to more than just ice cream, including regional treats such as lobster rolls and stuffed quahogs. However, it's the ice cream that keeps this family tradition returning year after year. Ice cream just tastes better in the shadow of this unique building.

Salvador’s Ice Cream
460 Smith Neck Road
South Dartmouth, MA 02748

The Bucket at Gulf Hill (South Dartmouth, Mass.)

Credit: Beth Lennon
More commonly referred to as "The Bucket," The Bucket at Gulf Hill is known for its ice cream, burgers, and lobster rolls.

Just two miles north of Salvador’s milk can is another giant of the roadside: the 20-foot-tall ice cream bucket overlooking the water at Apponagansett Park.

Built in 1929 as an ice cream stand for local Gulf Hill Dairy, this two-story bucket-shaped structure originally had a handle addition to make it look like an old-fashioned hand crank ice cream maker. The bucket was part of a compound that also included a full-service restaurant, dairy barn, and farm located on hundreds of acres of the once-bustling dairy farm.

Locals had a soft spot for “The Bucket” and memories of summer jaunts for ice cream after a day at the beach, so it was heartbreaking when the entire property was sold to be turned into a private residence.

However, local support for saving the landmark structure was strong, and they were able to secure enough funding to relocate "The Bucket" to Apponagansett Park in 2003.

After reconstruction and restoration, the Bucket opened to the public in 2008 serving ice cream, burgers, and hot dogs. These can be eaten on the picnic tables overlooking the bay or at one of the many free concerts held there. The concession, leased through the parks department, is open from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day, ensuring that the legacy of the Gulf Hill Dairy Bucket continues to create memories as a place to get a sweet treat in the warmer months.

The Bucket at Gulf Hill
77 Gulf Road
South Dartmouth, MA 02748
(508) 992-7777

Milk Bottle Buildings (New Bedford & Raynham, Mass.)

The Frates Dairy company was based in New Bedford, Mass., and is known for having built three buildings shaped like milk bottles. Two of the three have survived.

G&S Pizza (New Bedford)

Credit: Beth Lennon
G&S Pizza serves locally made ice cream from March to October.

It’s not often you see a 52-foot-tall milk bottle bursting out of a pizza shop -- unless you’re driving down New Bedford's Acushnet Avenue.

Originally an ice cream stand -- then a restaurant -- built and operated by Frates Dairy, this bottle-shaped building was constructed by steaming wood and warping it to create the shape of a milk bottle. Once constructed, the bottle was then topped with a red bottle cap. The sides of the bottle were painted to resemble milk -- as it was delivered to homes during that time -- with the bright white milk being topped with a layer of off-white cream.

This location was a Frates Restaurant until 2003 when it was purchased by a local couple who continued it as an ice cream stand, only to put it up for sale again in 2005. G&S Pizza purchased the property at that time and still sells local Bliss Dairy Ice Cream in the warmer months as a nod to the historic landmark bottle.

The Milk Bottle at G&S Pizza
2840 Acushnet Ave.
New Bedford, MA ‎
(508) 998-5009

The Milk Bottle (Raynham)

Credit: Beth Lennon
Built in 1926, the LoSciuto family acquired The Milk Bottle in December 2000.

When it’s shaped like a milk bottle, you might as well have your business be ... The Milk Bottle!

Twenty-five miles north of the New Bedford Milk Bottle stands the second Frates building shaped like a milk bottle. Built in 1926 and more than 50 feet tall, The Milk Bottle is buffered from the traffic and partially obscured from the roadside by flowering trees. However, the bright red cap and white bottle still towers above the parking lot and tree tops, making this roadside destination worth a double take.

Owned by the LoSciuto family since 2000, the bottle is similar to its southern sister in construction, shape, and paint colors. Only open for breakfast and lunch, there is indoor seating at a circular counter inside the bottle proper, and booths inside the restaurant addition. Much to the delight of both children and adults, ice cream is still served from the canopied windows during the warmer months.

The Milk Bottle
785 Broadway
Raynham, MA 02767
(508) 822-6833

So while the once-rural landscape of the area now reflects the progress and rapid development of the past century, these noble structures stand as a testament to a more genteel time of family-owned dairies and homemade ice cream on hot summer days.

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