A trip to Bell Buckle will reward your eyes with rolling hills and architectural delights. It will trigger your curiosity with history tales. It will warm your heart with the kindness of locals and satisfy your taste buds with delicious treats.
When you stop by Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor, Nancy Phillips, better known as Mama Phillips, will welcome you and brighten your day. You will leave with a smile and a story to tell.
Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor offers hand-dipped ice cream, homemade waffle cones, old-fashioned banana splits, homemade fudge, caramel corn, and Mama Phillips’ fried pies.
“The ice cream shop draws a lot of folks from Manchester, Tullahoma, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville,” said Billy Phillips, Mama Phillips’ son. “Most of them come weekly, and some come a couple times a week to get pies and ice cream and eat at the Bell Buckle Café.”
What attracts visitors to the ice cream store is the devotion that goes into each of the homemade treats.
The family has owned the ice cream shop for more than two decades. Billy also owns and operates Phillips General Store and Antiques in Bell Buckle.
“We have only had the Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor for about 25 years,” he said. “But the store has offered hand-dipped ice cream for about 90 years.”
The shop provides more than tasty delights.
“It’s the experience of it,” Billy said. “That store has the original carved-oak soda fountain bar that’s been there since the late 1800s.”
He remembers eating ice cream at the store as a child. Today, decades later, the shop continues to create memories.
“That was the ice cream parlor and grocery store when I was growing up,” Billy said.
About 45 years ago, “little Billy was 5 years old, wandering down the street from one of those old Victorian houses where I grew up. And there was a lady here in town by the name of Ms. Jane.”
She owned the ice cream store.
“Ms. Jane was a mother to every person that walked into that store,” Billy said. “She was a mother to local families, local children and to the Webb School students. We have students from all over the world now. Back then, the students were from all over the United States, and these were homesick kids. They were missing their moms, and Ms. Jane took every one of them under her wing.”
Ms. Jane ensured children who walked in the store enjoyed some ice cream – no matter if they could pay or not, said Billy.
“I grew up with this fondness and affection for Ms. Jane and how she operated this business and being a mother to all of us,” Billy said. “Years go on, and I go through school and start my career in the antiques. The ice cream store changed hands a couple of times, and it remained closed for about a year or two.”
About 25 years ago, during one of the town’s arts and crafts events, the owners rented out that store for the weekend of the festival.
“I came in, and that beautiful hand-carved oak soda fountain bar with the marble slabs and the mirror and the Art Nouveau design was covered with NASCAR T-shirts hanging across that bar,” Billy said. “I instantly became sick in my stomach.”
Billy said his memory of Ms. Jane was struck.
“My memory was of this grey-haired lady, with a bun on her head, wearing an old flour sack dress, who prayed with everybody who walked through the door, giving everybody ice cream, lending her art and her sleeve to anybody in our town. And it literally just set a fire in me.”
Billy wouldn’t let Ms. Jane’s legacy fade.
“This couldn’t happen,” Billy said. “This is part of our history and tradition and part of her legacy. As luck would have it, the Monday after the craft show, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on the window. I called the telephone number and asked if the building was still available. I went and signed the papers that very morning.”
And that’s how Ms. Jane’s store turned into the Bluebird Ice Cream Parlor.
“My grandmother was a collector of antique bluebird china, and that’s why I came up with Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor,” Billy said.
Mama Phillips continues the tradition of offering not just delicious treats, but also hospitality and generosity.
“My mom is the one that makes the homemade fried pies still cooked in cast-iron skillet,” Billy said. “Mama Phillips is 85. She has been making those pies since she was 9 years old. On most days, she makes 10 dozen of them, and they sell out every day. People beg for the recipe, but that’s part of the charm. There are some of us in the family that know how to make it. But I can just tell you honestly, none of us are ever going to work that hard. It is such a labor of love, of making homemade dough every day and homemade filling. It’s very labor-intensive, and there are not many (people) that can keep up with the amount of labor that goes into making those pies. My mom takes pride in every single pie she makes. Love goes in every pie she makes.”