The old Columbia Frosty is getting a makeover and the new owners, Matt and Christin Foust of Sonora, hope to soon be serving burgers, fries, lemonade, blackberry shakes, and the old Frosty’s signature soft serve ice cream.
Matt owns and runs Foust Heat & Air in Sonora and they’ve owned the Frosty building at 22652 Parrotts Ferry Road for about two years. Christin was born and raised in Columbia and she and Matt both attended Columbia Elementary and they remember being able to walk from school to the Frosty for drinks or cones.
“We aim to bring it back to the roots of its heyday, when it was the real Columbia Frosty,” Matt Foust said this week outside the freshly painted white-and-red exterior of their new business. “It was popular. It was really good food. The double gold rush burgers with thousand island and melted cheese. The ice-cold lemonade.”
The Fousts are still working on the interior, and they say they hope to open in four to six weeks, sometime in August.
The Fousts emphasize there’s no connection between their Columbia Frosty and the Jamestown Frosty. They say there used to be a Tuolumne Frosty on Carter Street near the town square. There is no Frosty franchise in California, but a lot of business owners embrace the name Frosty for their connection to soft serve ice cream invented in the 1930s and popularized nationwide from the 1940s to the 1960s by mobile Mister Softee trucks back East.
There is a connection between the old Columbia Frosty and an even older Frosty in a town that no longer exists, according to Tuolumne County records and multiple former residents of the ghost town that is now under water.
Asked how old the Columbia Frosty building is, the Fousts speculated it was built in the early 1960s and it used to be in old town Jacksonville, the former Tuolumne River town that is now more than 200 feet below the surface of Don Pedro Reservoir. The raising of New Don Pedro Dam drowned Jacksonville and old Highway 120 in the early 1970s to make Don Pedro the sixth-largest capacity reservoir in the state.
Tommy Thomason, 78, grew up in Jacksonville and he and his wife, Sandy Thomason, 75, live just two miles from where Tommy was raised, on their Kanaka Creek Ranch.
“It was a little town strung out along the Tuolumne River, and Woods Creek came in from Jamestown,” Tommy said Thursday in a phone interview. He and his folks lived outside Jacksonville. His parents owned the Mountain River Lodge next to the Tuolumne River near the old Highway 120 bridge that is also under water.
Tommy graduated from Sonora High School in 1960 when he was 18 and he remembers the Jacksonville Frosty was built sometime after he left town.
Richard Terry, 72, was born in Oakdale and moved to Jacksonville in 1957 when he was 9. He attended Jacksonville Elementary, a one-room schoolhouse with all eight grades under one roof, and he graduated from Sonora High with the class of 1966.
Jacksonville used to average about 120 year-round residents in the early 1960s, Terry said. He remembers the Jacksonville Frosty opening sometime while he was in high school.
“I worked for Tommy’s parents at the Mountain River Lodge,” Terry said Thursday. “I had an old car, a 1950 four-door Dodge, and I’d drive to work at the lodge and sometimes I’d stop at the Frosty and get an ice cream. Either a milkshake or a cone, the soft serve, that was a big deal back then.”
He can’t remember exactly how much a cone cost, but it was a couple coins at most, because he does recall it was cheaper than a gallon of gas, which cost 31.9 cents or 32 cents a gallon, Terry said.
“The kids would go maybe once a week,” Terry said. “There was a lot of poverty in Jacksonville. We didn’t have a lot of money, although the community did really well with the tourists.”
Terry now lives in Don Pedro near the south end of New Don Pedro Dam in Tuolumne County.
Art and Anne Freeman built the Jacksonville Frosty in the early 1960s across the highway from the then-brand new Klein’s Cafe, Terry said. For the Freemans and the Kleins, building new businesses in Jacksonville made sense from an investment standpoint regardless of the irrigation districts talking about a new dam, to get fair market value for their property, Terry said.
“We were friends with Art and Anne Freeman and they talked about it,” Sandy Thomason said Thursday. “Tommy’s dad said they disassembled the Frosty and took pieces of it up to Columbia to use to build the Columbia Frosty. We’d see them in Columbia, they ran the Columbia Frosty a long time.”
War baby in Jacksonville
Judy Penrose Lewellen, 75, was 15 years old when she moved to Jacksonville in 1960. Her dad was born in Jacksonville. He was a plumber and he fought in World War II with the U.S. Army in Europe. She was born in San Francisco, a war baby. Today she lives in Rio Vista, Solano County, on the Sacramento River Delta.
“I was about 17 when the Jacksonville Frosty opened, I got married when I was 17,” Penrose Lewellen said, laughing at the memories. “I’d go occasionally.”
Even in the 1940s and 1950s, Penrose Lewellen’s grandfather lived in Jacksonville then, and he knew the irrigation districts based in Turlock and Modesto wanted to raise the dam, and he fought against it for years, Penrose Lewellen said.
“People didn't believe they were going to do it,” Penrose Lewellen said. “They had talked about it and fought it for so many years.”
Her cousin, Delores Penrose Puppe, a resident of Jamestown, used to be Delores Klein, and she remembers her family built Klein’s Cafe around 1961, and the Jacksonville Frosty wasn’t there yet. Delores is 93 years old now. Building new businesses in the 1960s in Jacksonville made sense, in spite of all the talk about a New Don Pedro Dam.
“We’d heard that story since we were little kids and it never took place,” Penrose Puppe said Thursday. “You don't quit building and living when you hear rumors and there's nothing done. I heard about it for 40 years and it never happened.”
Penrose Puppe said she was born in 1926 in Jacksonville and she was raised there. She also attended Jacksonville Elementary and finished eighth grade there. She graduated from Sonora High with the class of 1945.
Drowning the town
When an army of 500 workers completed New Don Pedro Dam in the late 1960s and began filling the new reservoir to cover up the old dam, people in Jacksonville knew they were up against a ticking clock and rising waters that would eventually drown their town.
Terry said he was at San Jose State when his parents’ home in Jacksonville was taken apart. He wasn’t around for the deconstruction of the town. The Mountain River Lodge was so big they burned that down, Terry said.
“My house they gave to the Mi Wuk Indians,” Terry said. “They dismantled it and took it back to the reservation.”
That was a terrible time for the families down there in Jacksonville, Sandy Thomason said. There were maybe 75 people left in the late 1960s, and they were losing their businesses and their houses were being destroyed. The lodge got burned but Tommy’s parents brought smaller motel sections up to Kanaka Creek Ranch on higher ground, Sandy Thomason said.
An old photograph shows the Jacksonville Frosty across the road from Klein’s Cafe, and Tuolumne County records from the early 1970s show Cleo Freeman, a butcher who used to own a motel in Jacksonville, and brother of Art Freeman, applied in pen and ink to change the sign at the Stage Stop Frosty on Broadway, an old name for Parrotts Ferry Road in Columbia.
Tuolumne County assessment records indicate the Columbia Frosty was built new, not moved, said Dave W. Wynne, 74, a lifelong resident of Columbia and the county assessor from 1979 to 2007. Permit # 760 was issued for a new Frosty building in March of 1967. It was placed on the assessment rolls for the first time in 1968.
“Perhaps the Frosty in Jacksonville was torn down and moved by the Freemans,” Wynne said. “But it’s very doubtful it was rebuilt in Columbia.”
Stan Steiner, 73, who owns and runs Custom Rock and S&S Enterprises outside old town Columbia off Parrotts Ferry Road, said Thursday he used to go to Jacksonville to go swimming and jump off the old Highway 120 bridge, and in Jacksonville they’d sell beer to anybody.
Steiner says Cleo Freeman’s hotel in Jacksonville, he cut it into four pieces and brought it up to Columbia, put the pieces together and added a second story, and that’s the Columbia Inn Motel that stands directly behind Columbia Frosty to this day.
“Art Freeman owned the Frosty in Jacksonville and he took it apart and brought all the usable materials up here,” Steiner said. “That’s what I hear. Floor joists, rafters, roof beams. All the exterior for the new place was probably new. Dave Wynne told me this morning they pulled that building permit for a new Frosty on March 17, 1967.”
A new Frosty
Regardless of whether the Columbia Frosty contains any materials from the old Jacksonville Frosty, the Fousts appreciate the connection to the place that no longer exists. They like the history and they believe a lot of people have fond memories of burgers and fries at the old Columbia Frosty. They are excited about opening.
“Our plan is to make a hamburger that once you’ve eaten it, you’ve got to have another one,” Matt Foust said.
“That’s what we’re going to do,” Christin Foust said.
“We’re going to call it the Real McCoy,” Matt Foust said. “We’re going to use real blackberries in the blackberry shakes. Blackberries grow all around here.”
The Fousts remember walking from Columbia Elementary to the old Columbia Frosty, and tastes of the soft serve and the french fries and the lemonade decades ago have stayed with them.
“We hope it’s a fun, relaxing place where people can come and have a good meal,” Christin Foust said.
“Or a soft serve on a hot summer day,” Matt Foust said.
Christin Foust emphasized her food service career began when she was 14 years old at Rube’s Family Restaurant in East Sonora. When she was 18 she moved to Perko’s, now Barrow’s, and she worked there for 15 years. She later graduated from nursing school and she’s been working for Adventist Health Hospice the past eight and a half years.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.