Turkey Hill's cool new attraction gives visitors the inside scoop

Turkey Hill's cool new attraction gives visitors the inside scoop
Turkey Hill Experience opened earlier this month in Lancaster County. (Photo courtesy of York County Convention, Baltimore Sun)

If you're looking for ice cream and iced tea to cool the heat of a summer day, you could go to the refrigerator.

Or you could take a sweet trip to the newly opened Turkey Hill Experience in Lancaster County.

The attraction from the Turkey Hill Dairy not only highlights what goes into making ice cream and iced tea but also brings the learning experience to visitors in a lively, hands-on approach.

"People are fascinated by ice cream," said Quintin Frey, president of Turkey Hill and grandson of Armor Frey, who founded the dairy in 1931. "They have a real emotional connection to ice cream and memories around ice cream. We wanted a way to explore that emotional connection and nostalgia."

The attraction is set up like a cross between a state-of-the-art museum and factory tour where visitors journey through interactive displays, immersive exhibits, images and games that bring the story, history and production of Turkey Hill's icy products to life. Exhibits and photographs also feature Lancaster County's rich agricultural history.

Created in partnership with Boston Productions Inc., known for creating the Hershey Story at the Museum on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pa., the adventure is all housed in a beautifully restored historic silk mill.

Visitors are offered a chance to explore at their own pace the fun of ice cream and iced tea — including a chance to sample both. Ice cream is the star of the show, letting visitors in on the science, technology and mechanics behind the production process.

"It's a valuable learning opportunity about how ice cream is made and the science behind ice cream and the fun behind ice cream," said Frey. "If you want to have a fun time learning, it's a great place to go."

Spread out over 26,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, there are also a cafe and retail shop. The kid-friendly interactive attractions offer the chance to come up with your own ice cream flavor, name it, design the packaging and then star in a commercial promoting it. When you get home, you can check it out online and even post it on Facebook.

Touch-screens allow adults and kids alike to test their iced tea or lemonade personality. There are also aromas to sniff of the most popular teas from around the world and paper to stamp with the smells of popular ingredients of ice cream such as peppermint, almond, raspberry and coconut.

Long Island resident Theresa Fleissner visits Lancaster County every year. She heard about the opening of the Turkey Hill Experience and wanted to check it out.

"It's beautiful in here, and there are lots of educational things to do," she said. "This is great for kids, especially if you're here on vacation and it's a rainy day."

J.P. and Jocelyn McCarty brought their two young children, Lily, 4, and Ben, 18 months, to the Turkey Hill Experience on their trip from Pittsburgh.

"I love it. It's very kid-friendly," said Jocelyn McCarty. "The fact you can name your own ice cream and that there's ice cream promised at the end of the tour is nice. It's hard to find tours that keep the kids and the adults interested."

Frey said that much like the ice cream product itself, the Turkey Hill Experience is geared toward families. The attraction takes about an hour to walk through.

There are two slides for kids to play on, a laser-shooting exhibit, ball pit and a chance to step into a freezer compartment. Visitors can play a game guessing the ingredients of popular Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There's even an opportunity to milk a mechanical cow.

The Turkey Hill Experience offers a view of the dairy's history, which has grown to the point of producing the nation's number-one refrigerated iced tea and the number-four ice cream brand in the country.

The idea for the attraction started more than 20 years ago after a supplier to the dairy suggested they open an ice cream museum. Then throughout the years came many requests for tours of the dairy, but food safety laws and standards prohibit them from opening it for public tours.

After searching available spots for the project, Frey said, they settled on an old silk mill that dates back to 1899 located in Columbia, Pa. about six miles from the actual dairy and only minutes from Route 30.

"The place was an absolute eyesore," he said. "We recognized its potential."

The mill was originally known as the Ashley & Bailey Silk Mill, where the company wove raw silk imported from China and Japan into thread and cloth to create a variety of silk-based goods. In its heyday, the mill employed several hundred members of the local community. It was later owned by a sewing company that shut down in the late 1970s, and the building sat vacant until its current renovation.

The project, including the purchase and renovation of the building, cost $15 million.

Columbia has a historic link to Turkey Hill: It was the site of the dairy's first residential sale.

"Columbia is an authentic part of our story," added Frey. "That's where my grandfather took milk to and started knocking door-to-door."