When I started this project, I asked for some help in building a list of destinations to visit. One of the most frequently named ones was Ye Olde Mill in Utica. Ye Olde Mill is the corporate and production home of the Velvet Ice Cream company. They are one of several nationally known Ohio ice cream companies, but Velvet is the only one that have this sort of factory / destination. I can hear some people yelling “What about Young’s Dairy Farm?” and yes, I agree it’s a great (likely better) ice cream tourism destination (which I plan to cover in the somewhat near future), but their brand isn’t as well known nationally.
Ye Olde Mill is a bit of a misnomer, as the actual mill building that you can visit today was built in 1986 after a fire destroyed the original mill. The current mill apparently looks nothing like the original mill, so you can’t even say it’s a faithful recreation of the original. The history of this location, however, goes back exactly 200 years when a man named James King built a sawmill in order to build a grist mill on this location.
The mill changed hands a few times over the next 100 or so years, eventually becoming (of all things) a roller skating rink in 1922. In 1960 that Velvet Ice Cream decided to move their headquarters, at the time in Columbus, into this location. Ye Olde Mill sits only a mile from downtown Utica, where the company was founded. I did not find any information suggesting that the original building was still around, or that any kind of marker was in Utica itself.
As Ye Olde Mill is also the corporate headquarters, the public does not get much of a chance to explore the actual mill building itself. The top couple levels are offices. It is the backdrop for the rather lovely natural setting of the area, however. There is a small lake, a picnic area, and even a nature trail on property, should you like to walk off your sundae.
There are several activities you can take part in at the Mill: a factory tour, a restaurant, and two small museums. The main attraction is the factory tour. Tours start at the top of the hour in a small wooden shed just to the side of the mill that has several cases full of artifacts.
In here, you will watch a video that I presume tells a little history about the company. I would love to tell you more about the video, but we showed up at 5 minutes past the hour, so we missed the start of the tour. Instead, we wandered around the shed for a couple minutes taking pictures of some of the artifacts on display.
You are then led to the Viewing Gallery. On the way, the guide will talk briefly about the history of the mill, and point out various points of interest. The destination of this walk is the Viewing Gallery where one of Velvet’s Tour Guides will point out different parts of the factory, and explain how ice cream is made (did you know milk comes from cows???).
We did walk over here, and sort of snuck in to this part of the tour. Unfortunately, you are corralled into one area, and can only look through one large window at the facility. At the time we were there, all the workers were at the back of the room, so there was very little we could actually see beyond all the equipment they use.
Entering the front door of the actual mill building, you walk into the Wheel Room Restaurant. It’s dark, it’s rustic, and it’s a relaxing place to sit down for a while. I’m kind of a cheap skate, so I found the menu to be a bit pricey for my tastes. $8-10 for basic deli sandwiches and hamburgers, so I can’t actually comment on the food, but the atmosphere is nice.
Of course, the highlight is the ice cream. They have over 50 flavors available at any given time. I recommend the sampler. For $7 you get 5 small scoops of different flavors. None of the flavors are quite as extravagant as you’ll find at a boutique style ice cream shop, but there are quite a few intriguing flavors available (Blueberry Cheesecake anyone?)
Walking through the back door of the restaurant, you enter the Ice Cream Museum…which was like stepping from a rustic 1800s restaurant into The Max from Saved by the Bell in 1992.
The museum didn’t have a whole lot of content in it. A few display cases of more Velvet Ice Cream stuff, some old scoops, and a couple incredibly dated wall exhibits. To be perfectly honest, I think the displays in the tour shed are better than what was in the museum section. Still, probably worth 5 minutes of your time.
Just outside the ice cream museum room is a Museum of Milling, which has a small collection of various equipment used in…milling. I would explain more, but a lot of the signs were either missing or non-existent. According to their website, some of this equipment may have dated back to the original mill owners. There’s some neat stuff, but there’s no way of knowing what most of the things did.
As a destination in and of itself, I would recommend going to Ye Olde Mill during their annual Ice Cream Festival on Memorial Day weekend. There are a number of other festivities in the field across the road during that weekend. Also, keep in mind that it’s only open from April to October (although their season seems to keep lengthening), so check their website for hours before going.
Now, if you are visiting one of the other destinations in the Newark / Mt. Vernon area, then Ye Olde Mill is a great side quest for a delicious snack with just a touch of history thrown in.
Next time, we find an absolute hidden gem of a park, and pay our respect to a comedy legend.
Thanks for reading!