LeRoy N.Y., a small village of 7,600, is where "America's Most Famous Dessert," JELL-O was invented. It's also the location of the JELL-O Museum located in the heart of the village in a former 1890's academic building. It tracks the dessert's history and origins.
Credit goes to a LeRoy carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer, Pearle Bixby Wait who in 1897, was experimenting with gelatin and came up with the fruit-flavoured dessert, which his wife, May, named, JELL-O. No one knows how she came up with the name but it stuck.
Inside you discover items like 20 original oil paintings for JELL-O in the 1920's, a video tracing the marketing of JELL-O for the past 100 years and playing original jingles like, "Be a Kid Again" and "There's Always Room for JELL-O." There are photos of the original JELL-O girl (You can have your picture taken with her.), a large collection of original packages of the dessert and a section on the various, "Pitch People" who acted as spokespeople for this still popular gelatin. Some will remember Gomer Pyle, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Eddie Albert, Leslie Nelson, Andy Griffith and Bill Cosby who pitched for 30 years until he retired in 2004.
The museum offers plenty of unique JELL-O gifts to purchase including JELL-0 for $1.00 a box, Frisbees, spoons, key chains, shirts, shorts, and giant pens. The museum at 23 East Main Street is open all year round at 10 am except New Years, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving and Easter. Adults $4.50, Children 6-11 $1.50.
Beside the museum is The LeRoy House. Admission is by donation. This 1817 brick structure and the JELL-O Museum is owned and operated mostly by volunteers of The LeRoy Historical Society. Scattered throughout the home, I found "Please Touch" signs inviting children to participate in hands-on activities. For example, you can use a hand press to put an imprint of the seal of the LeRoy Salt Company on a piece of paper. In the basement kitchen you can use a mortar and pestle to grind allspice.
Nothing captures LeRoy's beauty and diversity better than its historic buildings, offering a bridge between then and now. Wonderfully restored limestone homes have been converted into unique bed and breakfast establishments. The post office and town hall are fine examples of stonemasons' skills.
LeRoy has one of 21 miniature Statue of Liberty's erected by the Boy Scouts of America throughout the United States in the 1950's, sitting on the bank of the Osaka Creek, which winds its way through the downtown. Standing beside this statue is a must-take photo.
There's no better place to eat than the D and R Depot Restaurant at 63 Lake St. in an original, early 1900's railroad depot. Friendly servers offer up reasonably-priced meals all made from scratch in a relaxed atmosphere. Even the background music is old-fashioned. Ask the servers about the dolls hanging upside down from the dining room ceiling.
JELL-O Trivia: In the 1920's and 30's JELL-O operated a factory in Fort Erie, Ontario in the former Mentholatum Building on the Niagara Parkway. The JELL-O Museum in LeRoy N.Y. was opened in 1997 a few blocks from the original North Street factory. The first four JELL-O flavours were orange, lemon, strawberry, and raspberry. A sugar-free JELL-O has been produced since 1925.
JELL-O Museum in LeRoy
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George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.