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Blaze at Upper Milford's Countryside Melted Dreams

Countryside "ice cream stand" -- a regional tradition for decades -- burned one year ago today.

Editor's Note: This story is Part I of a two-part feature on the blaze that gutted Countryside Restaurant one year ago today. Look for Part II tomorrow.

The approach of Memorial Day and end to another school year traditionally have signaled the start of "Ice Cream Season" at Countryside Restaurant.

For decades, a landmark overlooking Emmaus and Macungie where Routes 29 and 100 meet in Upper Milford Township, -- first known as Kressley's Cree-Mee-Freez -- was the quintessential roadside ice cream stand in our very midst.

What's your favorite memory of Countryside Restaurant?

Patrons sat on benches or in the grass of the hillside overlooking the valley below as they licked at twirled soft ice cream and watched the glow of fireflies brighten as darkness replaced sunset on a warm summer evening.

Models of cars parked in the lot changed. Fashions changed. The music that wafted over the parking lot changed. But the essence of the scene remained the same for decades.

Until May 21, 2011.

That's when , closing the business indefinitely.

As a result, this Memorial Day -- and apparently the entire summer -- will be different because of the blaze that hit the popular restaurant specializing in soft ice cream. Instead of extended summer hours to meet the demand of lines of customers snaking out the doors, the parking lot will be empty and the doors locked. Memories of a bustling business have been replaced with sights of a charred, gutted building, tall grass and a large "for sale" sign that offers someone new an opportunity to start over.

The once neatly-swirled treat of a business is figuratively -- for now -- a dripping, gooey mess.

. Kao said he worked with fire and police investigators and was told the cause was arson that resulted from a burglary. He said wires were cut to surveillance cameras.

Neither Upper Milford Western District Fire Chief Joseph Kernick nor state police Fire Marshal Michael A. Booke could be reached for confirmation.

Kao remembers that he was alerted of the fire at 3:24 a.m. "It was one of those things like, 'This isn't happening,'" he recalled thinking as he drove up to his burning business.

But it was all too real.

The business was opened in 1958 by Leo Kressley as Kressley's Cree-Mee-Freez. The property was sold in 1974 to Nadine Schmoyer, who provided an addition for eat-in service, and the name changed as well. The most recent owner is a Harleysville chiropractor, Jim Hilston.

Kao entered the picture about 2 1/2 years ago when he switched from hotel management to a tenant running the facility. He knew of the site's tradition and wanted to add to that.

"It's a nostalgic place," he said. "That's one of the reasons why when the opportunity came...we took a leap of faith. I loved the place. Everybody loved the place."

Kao realized that in order to meet the rent, he would have to turn Countryside into a year-round venture. So, he added to the menu and expanded the hours. That change took some time to catch on, but he said it did.

Then came the fire.

Beverly May 21, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Just drove by this weekend. So sad to see it like that. It was always the place to go. Take the kids for a treat, or after a long day working in the yard, or better yet..later in the evening, after the sun went down. Sure miss going for a cone "up the hill."
Ronald Weaver May 21, 2012 at 01:01 PM
New updated rules and regulations did not help the parking situation making it probably more difficult to operate. Sometimes in order to comply things get too difficult to operate a small business. The question is where do you draw the line when it comes to adopting new regulations many with somewhat good intentions.
JIM HARTMAN May 21, 2012 at 01:20 PM
MY DAD WAS A PREACHER IN ZIONSVILLE IN THE EARLY 60'S AND THIS WAS ALWAYS A FAVORITE PLACE TO GO. IT WAS SUCH A LANDMARK AS YOU COULD LOOK OVER LEHIGH VALLEY.
Vic May 21, 2012 at 01:48 PM
The country side was always good a good place to stop for good food and treats.I wish the owners would rebo the bussiness and reopen it because it has been there for many years and has been a popular place to stop.I do agree with Mr.Weaver on where do you draw the line on ordanances because I feel townships and boro supervisors come up with ideas that really have no meaning and the boards pass them.The biggest thing I don,t agree with and that is to boro,s and township buy realestate to add more parks and etc.that needs to be stopped so taxpayers money is there for what its needed for roads and hings townships are around for.All municipals need to sell what they don,t need and take care of what they were formed for and that is roads repais snow removel and the parks that already exist not buying realestate.Back to the Countryside the township needs to lighten up on their unreal zoning laws that at times don,t make sense and hopefully someone or the owners now reopen it and keep a specail place going.
carolyn lagler May 21, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Back when the Kressleys owned it you could get a baby cone that was just the right size for our toddlers. It was also our place to go to for supper on Mothers Day. A treat for the kids and a break for mom. Carolyn
Ronald Weaver May 21, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Probably State owned road but sometimes Townships would ask new owners for State permits which were outdated which would be overlooked by the State now forced to comply therefore the problem for new owner. Is it for good or bad, you have to answer that, however sometimes updates do more bad than good if a real safety issue ever was experience. How safe must we be, what price is worth the concern, some risk is worth having. So many new regulation we never know if we comply, maybe people justifying their existence at some point. I know zoning enforcement officers are paid to enforce however who is coming up with an endless stream of new regulations some good but some really unnecessary.
Ronald Weaver May 21, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Common sense decisions by Township officials are no longer possible many times forced to go by the books because of complaints from citizens who deem another citizen was not forced to comply when maybe the situation was really different. Sometimes compliance enforcement complaints are justified, who can make this decision without looking bias thus common sense decisions can no longer be made but all is by the books.
Robert Sentner May 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Unfortunately this property is bordered by 2 state roads and a very very dangerous intersection. I am sure the township would do whatever they could do to expedite getting this property back up and operating. A true landmark for the area.
Peggy Heminitz May 21, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I remember when the school busses would stop at Kressley's the last week of school where the children could buy a cone for $.10.
Jim Kahle May 22, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I remember, as a kid, being taken up to Kressley's by my sister and her boyfriend. I ended up accidentally dropping my ice cream cone on his back seat...oops! After that we always ate our treats outside on the benches overlooking the valley. Thanks for bringing back the memories!
Ronald Weaver May 22, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I am sure that everyone including Township Officials desire to see this property back up and operating and recognize it is located at a very dangerous intersection with yearly increases in traffic. Hope someone makes the purchase and finds a way to make it profitable so the young folks can share the experience that their parents and grandparents did.
Susan Berger May 22, 2012 at 12:40 AM
I'm still soo terribly saddened by the loss of Countryside. Breaks my heart that they couldn't re-open. I really wish someone could bring it back to life again. My family and I loved it so much!!
Tad Miller May 22, 2012 at 03:46 AM
We're still not sure how this story will end for the landmark ice cream stand that so many have enjoyed, but read on Tuesday morning for how operator Bill Kao has made out since the tragic fire of one year ago.
tom marshall May 22, 2012 at 11:13 AM
someone needs to cut the grass
tamarya May 22, 2012 at 04:11 PM
So sad to see it gone, that weekend the fire occurred I even told my kids the following weekend I was going to take them there for ice cream and then the fire occured. My husband took me there once when we were dating and the ice cream was very good and it was a good place for parking also.
Carl W May 26, 2012 at 12:52 AM
I never patronized, however, used to like to drive by & see the friendly, fun atmosphere, and that, alone, I enjoyed. I DO remember the story, and hope most of all that things worked out for that owner !! (Yes, I'll miss it, in my own way, too).
Dolores Wetzel August 17, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I graduated from Emmaus High School in 1974, and remember alot of our school bus drivers used to drive us to countryside and treat there students at the end of the school year, with icecream..... a fond memory was only once did carl Litenwalner, take the Alburtis kids for an icecream treat is one of my bus riding memories....

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