Past Treasure of the Month – December 2009

Christmas Cheer with Purity Ice Cream
Sherbert glasses

During the holiday season, the Rosenberg Library’s Museum shared an enchanting history of the Island’s most famous ice cream. The December “Treasure of the Month” displayed six sherbet glasses from Purity Ice Cream Co. which was founded in Galveston. As few remember, it was Purity Ice Cream, rather than that delicious treat found in Brenham, that is the oldest ice cream manufacturer in Texas. Purity Ice Cream Co. first opened in 1889, and was located on 1202 Postoffice Street, Galveston, TX. Each of the Museum’s six glasses is marked with the “Purity” logo in gold. The set was donated to the Library by Margaret and Elisabeth Runge in 1995. Ice cream has been a delicacy since the 4th century B.C. Kings, emperors, and rulers alike have enjoyed variations of nectar, fruit, honey, ice, and milk concoctions as the recipes traveled from China throughout Europe. Once it was imported to the United States, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers were so delighted by the flavors that they served it to all of their guests. The first Gelateria (ice cream shop) in the United States was established in New York in 1770, and this “iced cream” dessert became a favorite dish among colonials.

Purity Ice Cream newspaper ad

The ice cream industry as it is known today was wholly developed on American soil, and the past few centuries have brought several improvements to this creamy confection. These include the addition of salt to the iced cream — which lowered and controlled the temperature of the ingredients — as well as the invention of wooden bucket freezers with rotary paddles. Augustus Jackson, a former White House chef, was given the title “father of ice cream” because he created several popular ice cream methods and flavors in 1832. In 1846, Nancy Johnson patented a hand-cranked freezer that established the basic method of making ice cream that is still used today. The first large-scale commercial ice cream plant was established in 1851. It was the introduction of mechanical refrigeration that made ice cream commercially distributable.

Purity Ice Cream Co., Texas’ oldest ice cream company, was a family operation which opened in 1889. However, there is an on-going debate concerning who were the original founders of the company. It was either both owned and operated by the Brynston family from inception, or it was started by Mr. Jerry Sullivan and his partner, Mr. Ben Willis, before it was sold to the Brynston family. Regardless of the true founder, Purity ice cream was so popular in Galveston County that few drugstore soda fountains or neighborhood grocery stores carried any other brand name. Every location proudly displayed the Purity neon signs.

The factory on 1202 Postoffice churned eighteen flavors, each made from cream bought from Lufkin, TX. During its heyday, this relatively small plant manufactured 5,000 gallons of ice cream per month — and still had troubles keeping up with demand. In the early 1900s, the factory delivered its confections to local shops by horse-drawn wagons. For the holiday season, Purity would sell festive flavors such as eggnog and peppermint. Even during times of war when ingredients were scarce, Purity still produced popular ice cream flavors like chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. During World War II, Camp Wallace, the Hitchcock Naval Air Station in Hitchcock, Texas, was its biggest customer.

Purity Ice Cream street sign

After the death of its owner, Mr. Gustav Brynston, the Purity Ice Cream Co. closed its doors in 1979 after almost a century of ice cream sales. In 1983, the King family bought the Purity Ice Cream Co., its equipment and real estate at 12th and Postoffice Streets as well as the famous Purity formulas. Today one can only enjoy the historic flavors of Purity ice cream at La King’s Confectionary at their downtown location on Strand near 24th Street. La King’s features a 1920s soda fountain which serves malts, shakes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, splits, floats, and fountain drinks made from traditional methods and ingredients. Their seasonal holiday flavors include apple pie, cherry pie, pumpkin pie, and their best seller — mint chocolate chip.