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History of Brown's Velvet Ice Cream Company

In 1991 or 1992 Floyd and Maxine Brown were guest speakers for History Club, and they ended their program by serving wonderful ice cream treats for the group.  In those early years of History Club, notes weren't taken on the presentations, so this history of Brown's Velvet Ice Cream was submitted in 2007 by Mary Brown, wife of manager Kevin Brown, and transcribed by club secretary, Barb Ostlund.

In 1916, dairyman Carl Brown began the ice cream business by carving out large ice blocks and storing them in cool, shade tree shacks.  Carl and his sons could keep plenty of French Lake's freeze through the dog days of August and into November.  When mixed with Carl's fresh buttermilk and some wild berries, that ice became the frosty ingredient in a rich and smooth ice cream.

At first, it took quite awhile to make a small batch.  But the smiles on kids' faces told Carl the effort was worth it.  And when word of the taste spread into the counties, he used horse-drawn carts to bring his treat -- which came to be known as Brown's Velvet Ice Cream -- to others.

Grandson Floyd Brown continued the rich and creamy ice cream making along with his son Kevin, until 1990 when Floyd retired.  Brown's Velvet Ice Cream was then purchased by Larry Sorenson, owner of Upper Lakes Foods from Cloquet, Minnesota.

Kevin and another full-time worker turned out between 135,000 and 150,000 gallons of ice cream per year.  They made close to 50 flavors of ice cream alone including much loved sherbet and yogurt.

As a family business, Brown's used to sell to retail stores, but Upper Lakes decided to market only to wholesalers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

According to manager Kevin Brown, vanilla was by far the biggest seller, and everyone had their own favorite flavors.  One customer by the name of Archie -- Kevin never knew his last name -- came in and held up one or two fingers.  They didn't have to ask him what flavor.  After vanilla, maple nut sold the best in Annandale, and mint chocolate, caramel cup cashew and French silk chocolate were very popular.

In the spring of 2005, the plant shut down when the shaft on an ammonia compressor snapped because of its age.  Instead of purchasing new equipment, Upper Lakes decided to close its doors on the family business which for almost 90 years had delighted all who tasted Brown's Ice Cream.

This remembrance appears in "Memories of Annandale" by Lotus Williams, 1983. A second edition of "Memories of Annandale" was published in 1987 by The Annandale Advocate.  Copies may be purchased at the Advocate office.

History of Brown's Creamery (as told by Miss Doris Brown in 1982).

"Carl John Brown and his wife came from Sweden and settled near French Lake in the late 1800s. They had six sons and three daughters. Around 1906, C. J. Brown purchased the Farmers Creamery in Annandale to give his sons a business in addition to the home farm.

"John, the eldest son, and Oscar, the next son, were the first to leave home. John learned the art of butter making from the Knapp Creamery, as butter was the first product made. Then in 1909, Carl Brown initiated a milk route serving Annandale and the surrounding area. John and Ole Larson were the milkmen. Milk and cream were purchased from the local farmers. Carl and his brother Axel also offered a pick-up service to the farmers. At that time, milk cost five cents a quart. Cream was ten cents a pint and butter milk was five cents a gallon.

"Victor Brown, the youngest son, remained on the farm for a number of years, then joined his brothers at the creamery. It was about 1916 that C. J. Brown and Sons started making ice cream. They also supplied the dining car on the Soo Line Railroad passing through Annandale, with chickens, eggs, milk, butter and ice cream.

"At first, in the process of making ice cream, they could make only ten gallons at a time. The mixing container was a ten gallon stainless steel cylinder inside a wooden tub. The wooden tub would be filled with crushed ice and rock salt. A large paddle turned by belts running from the line shaft would churn the mixture as the ice brine froze it. The line shaft was powered from the coal or wood-fired steam engine. When it was partially set, it was run into the smaller horizontal freezer with continually flowing ice brine around it until it was harder, then into five-gallon and ten-gallon ice cream tubs.

"Deliveries of the ice cream were made in trucks which were designed with ice brine freezing compartments that would keep the ice cream frozen all day. In about 1930, automatic refrigeration trucks were purchased, making deliveries much less complicated.

"Cheese was another dairy product that was made at Brown's Creamery starting in about 1930. Cheddar cheese was the kind of cheese they made and sold, mainly to Kraft. They were fortunate in securing an experienced cheese maker, Oliver Nelson. He said his family moved to Annandale from Wisconsin and he remained with the company until they discontinued making cheese.

"In the early days of the business operations, Alfred Brown was the president and in 1928 the company decided to expand with another plant in Minneapolis. Alfred left Annandale to operate this plant and Axel followed sometime later. John Larson moved to Minneapolis in 1941 to work in the plant, which operated until the early 1960s.

"For many years we could see a Brown Ice Cream float in the Fourth of July Parade. Another tradition, which is still carried on, is the giving away of ice cream cones at Christmas time. Since World War II, Clifford Fredericks, the son-in-law of John Brown, has been a valued and much appreciated worker. Floyd and Doris Brown are the present owners and wish to add, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

Carl John Brown 1852-1925
Mrs. Carl J. Brown (Elizabeth) (1855-1934)

John Brown (1880-1927)
Oscar Brown (1883-1961)
Alfred Brown (1885-1953)
Carl E. Brown (1888-1977)
Axel Brown (1892-1977)
Victor Brown (1894-1967)
Hannah Brown (1890-1969)
Mary Brown (1881-1969)

Floyd Brown (1918-2007)

Doris Brown (1915-1999)

Annandale Advocate, August 10, 2005 - Brown's ice cream melts into history - Company closes after 99 years in Annandale Annandale and the Upper Midwest have had their last luscious lick of the original Brown's Velvet Ice Cream.

"Browns, one of the oldest businesses in Annandale, has closed its doors for good after 99 years, an official of its parent company, Upper Lakes Foods of Cloquet, said last week.

"The plant at 110 Excelsior Ave. S., shut down about the beginning of June when a part broke, and Upper Lakes decided about three weeks ago to close it permanently rather than buy costly new equipment to keep it going.

"The decision ends a family business that began manufacturing butter in 1906, made its name making ice cream for many years, and was sold to Upper Lakes in 1990."  .... In 1990, Floyd Brown and his sister Doris, now deceased, sold the business to Upper Lakes. It was either sell or go under, Kevin Brown, Floyd's son, said. Upper Lakes bought it on condition he stay on and run the plant. In the end Brown's turned out between 135,000 and 150,000 gallons of ice cream per year, he said, compared to the millions of gallons a company like Blue Bunny makes each month. Brown's made close to 50 flavors of ice cream alone and 62 flavors when you include its sherbet, yogurt and gelato... Vanilla was by far the biggest seller."

Note: C. J. Brown's Ice Cream Parlor opened at the Mall of America in Bloomington April 25, 1994, and was in business for a few years.