At 40, Arctic Circle is still hot

October 22, 2006|By Todd Holden | Todd Holden,Special to The Sun

Time was, when folks drove east on Route 22 past Churchville, food, cars, golf and good times were available in abundance. The Big M Drive-In and Outdoor movies folded and the Aberdeen Cattle Auction is no more. Still, one Churchville landmark - the Arctic Circle - continues to draw crowds.

The Arctic Circle began in 1966 when Ellis Reeves stopped selling ice cream in Washington and took over the soft ice cream stand.

"I had tough times, no work, so I went to work for Freezey Palace driving an ice-cream truck in the nation's capital. I hated that job - a rat race - so after two years of it, I quit and came to Churchville to run the Arctic Circle," he said.

Today, at 88, Reeves can still dip a double cone or whip up a good double-thick milkshake, but he prefers to pass time playing a few hands of gin rummy with his pals.

Pals dwindle when you hit his age, and Reeves has decided to turn over the operation of his "baby" to one of his sons, Richard.

So just how does one get into this business?

"For starters, I worked with my brother-in-law, Fred Bennett, in a Twin Kiss soft ice cream place on Martin Boulevard in Essex. Before that, I farmed here and there," he said.

When the Big Cone in Havre de Grace came up for sale, Reeves began making plans.

"There was a little ice cream stand on Route 40 in Havre de Grace that came up for sale, and I bought it in 1956. My lawyer, Brodnax Cameron Sr. in Bel Air, set up the financing for me and said he'd back me."

Soft Ice Cream was the trademark of the Big Cone, and so it became the trademark of the Arctic Circle as well. Reeves and his wife, Madge, bought their second soft ice cream establishment in 1966.

The timing was perfect for the clientele of moviegoers and drivers of fast cars - everybody screamed for ice cream, and the Arctic Circle was the place to go for it.

The combination of the Churchville Drive-In and the Arctic Circle proved to be a winning business team for years. Folks would let out from the movies and head across the street to get a treat.

Long before the malls and the superstores came to town, families would pack up the children for a pleasant drive to the Arctic Circle, and young folks would meet there to get a milkshake or ice cream and socialize.

Adjacent to the Arctic Circle is the Churchville Golf Driving Range and miniature golf. It proved to be a welcome neighbor for Reeves and his wife. Across the street, in the old cattle auction barn, archers practice with bows and arrows.

The burgeoning Arctic Circle called for more time on Reeves' part, so he leased the Big Cone to his stepson, Gary Williams, and the soft ice cream parade was on.

At the same time, Reeves had three Freezey Palace soft ice cream trucks on the road - the first in Harford County, he said.

"I really had a tough time with that, so after two years of the trucks on the road, I came back to the Arctic Circle, and I've been here ever since," he said.

Another son, Van, ran the Big Cone until his regular job took him to Germany, and Reeves closed the place. That location is now occupied by Rita's Desserts.

Another son, David, ran the Arctic Circle with his father and Richard Reeves until recently. Now it's just Richard, with Ellis Reeves coming in from time to time to make sure things are running smoothly.

The operation runs more smoothly sometimes than others, as Ellis tells it.

"I was held up once, was working by myself one winter's night," he recalled. "A masked man with a gun on me emptied the register and took my wallet; told me to lay down on the floor. I knew then and there I was a dead man. I thought, `This is it!' and then the crook was gone.

"Never caught him, and it took me years to get over it,"" he said.

But the good times have far outweighed the tough ones, and today the families that go to play miniature golf and have a treat get glimpse of the good old days in Harford County.

"I like to come in, help out where I can, and do bookwork," Ellis said. But, he declared, his milkshakes are "made by the master, and it's the best shake in the county."

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