2022 marks the 100th Anniversary of Harry Burt opening his landmark location, known as Burt’s, at 325 West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. Throughout the next few months, MVHS will host a series of special events, programs, and these Time Capsule posts. Each Time Capsule will take a look at a different phase in Burt’s life and legacy as an innovative and impressive confectioner.
Stay tuned for each new post on the final Friday each month through August.
The Good Humor Story starts right here in downtown Youngstown with messy hands – how many of us have enjoyed an ice cream cone or other ice cream bar with the fight against time to eat it before it melted but not so fast as to have that dreaded ice cream headache? Those messy hands led to years of experimenting with chocolate candy coatings wrapped around the frozen ice cream and their roots are right here in Youngstown. The man was Harry Burt and his sweet success story began when he was quite young.
Harry Beach Burt was born on August 9, 1874, in Cortland up in Trumbull County. He lived there until he was 7 and then moved with his family to Akron and then to Cleveland. It didn’t take Burt long to find his calling in life. In his teen years, he was a bootblack, shining boots on the street corners in Cleveland. He had a steady stream of customers and one took interest in Burt’s skills, offering him a job as a salesman. Burt organized his work with impressive care, creating six canvasing routes to cover the city each day of the week. He exceeded all sales expectations and sold himself as an expert salesman. That gift would continue throughout his career.
This took him to his next venture – meeting a man named Chester Coe, a proprietor of buttered popcorn and butterscotch. Sixteen-year-old Burt walked up to the man and asked him about his butter source. Coe replied, “I’ve never been asked to buy butter before, I always just went and got it. What in the world made you think of selling me butter, young man?” Burt responded that his nose knows. In turn, Coe hired Burt and took him on as an apprentice. Dressed in his cap and apron, Burt spent many days pulling taffy over a taffy hook as it cooled. This led him to short careers at several candy shops where he learned one thing and left to learn another, taking in everything he could from each master teacher.
All of that experience led him to be a well-rounded confectioner when he arrived in Youngstown with his mother in 1890. His experiences there inspired him to return to Youngstown and open his own small candy shop. That 1893 shop was located at 19 South Hazel Street in downtown Youngstown. He sold mostly penny goods in this wooden frame building. By 1895, his candy store offerings expanded to include ice cream and the foundation for his future empire was in place and he moved to a new location at 31 South Phelps Street.
Harry Burt himself recalls the beginnings of his story:
“A good many of the older folks will remember the old Sherman House which stood where the Printz Store now stands. Down on the Hazel Street side of this old Youngstown landmark was the cobbling shop of the man who later took over management of the Sherman House and vacated the room in which he had his little shop. I started my first store in that room, making and selling Butterscotch, Nut Candy, and the old fashioned Welsh Peppermint Candy.
“My first sale in that store was made to Charlie Weick. He was a very tiny boy at the time, of course, but spent his whole two cents with me. I still have those two pennies. I have them a talisman and they have occupied a secret place in each of the stores I have had over the period of the past quarter century.
“About two years later, I moved my little store to the old Predmore place on the northeast corner of Phelps and Boardman Streets in the Vindicator neighborhood. Nearby was the old Front Street School, now used as a warehouse by the Stambaugh-Thompson Company, and to the children there became famous my Two-For-A Penny Cream Candy sticks, the Prize Butterscotch Candies, and Penny Grab Bags containing popcorn and candy.
“In 1897, just 25-years ago, I moved to 27 North Phelps Street in the location recently occupied by A. J. Guemner, next door to the store we have just vacated. Here had stood the old Youngstown post-office and the building itself had been moved back and a new portion built on the front of it to the street. In this old post office, then constituting our work room, the first Burt’s Chocolates were made. They were the old fashioned chocolate cream drops.
“In this new store was installed our first drinking fountain consisting of several Singer sewing machine legs covered with pine boards and oil cloth and the equipment: a lemonade shaker and a sugar [jar].
“One year later, we installed our first soda fountain, at the time the most modern one to be had. Fortunately, we have a picture of this old fountain and it is shown here.”
This shop at on North Phelps Street set the stage for years of memories and milestones. Business began to grow and advertisements from the era state that “Harry B. Burt caters to First-Class trade, we make only the finest candies, ice cream, and ices. A unique feature of his handmade products was the local delivery service, initially a horse and buggy traveled around the neighborhoods with ice cream, but in 1902, Burt turned his attention to the automobile. This was the first known use of an automobile delivery service of any product in the entire world! The car was an R. E. Olds chassis with a special body made by Youngstown Wagon Works.
Burt continues his story:
“Twenty years ago, in March 1902, our new building on Phelps Street was completed and our first modern candy plant for the manufacture of a full line of chocolates as well as other kinds of candy was installed. In this location also, we built our first arbor and the slogan ‘Under The Arbor and Burt’s’ has come down through the years. Now, it is the “Arbor Garden at Burt’s”.
In 1906, Burt opened a new, larger shop on North Phelps street. This location included retail areas as well as seating for dining. The new site on North Phelps Street was the finest level of quality. The Arbor Garden became synonymous with the Youngstown social scene. For decades, Burt’s location on North Phelps was a hallmark of downtown Youngstown.
Check back next month as we explore how Burt’s business grew over the years, setting the scene for a few major milestones.