Delivering the Milk

The accompanying photo of the watercolor is of Middleham Farm that sat across the road from the octagon house now known as the Cheese Trap in Greene.  It was the farm of the J. Harry W. Elliots and is now gone.  It was painted by Esther Wilson who was a neighbor of the Elliots.  It is a symbol of what has been lost as the local family farms disappear.The latest statistic of Chenango County quotes that there are 290 dairy farms. Since the early 1900s the number of dairies, cows, and farmers has declined nearly 90%. In the early 1900s, thousands of farms in the county were producing milk and many had their own bottling businesses and milk deliveries which is remembered with great nostalgia.

In From Raft to Railroad, Mrs. Cochrane writes that many villagers in the early 1800s had their own cow that they pastured in their back yards or at one of the big farms like the Cowles or Juliands. This continued until 1888 when a village milk route began and villagers sold their cows. There are references to this in the Chenango American.
1-Mar-1888 W.R.Rowlands has sold his 250-acre farm with the “Greene Dairy Milk Route” to J.Siegrist, of Utica, for $9,000.
22-Nov-1888  Our milkmen have a very dreary time deliving this milk in the a.m. They wade through the mud and dark and the milk is worth all they ask for it.  They certainly have no desirable job in delivering.
The first use of a milk bottle was around 1880 and an automatic bottle filler and capper was patented in 1884 but Bill Lenga, a local milk bottle collector, says that the first local bottles were used by Borden’s in Norwich in the early 1900s. So in 1888, customers would have come out to the milk wagon and collected their milk from cans into their own containers.

The aforementioned Middleham Farm bottled (with the name J.Harry W. Elliot printed on the glass) and delivered certified raw milk as well as cottage cheese made by Mrs. Elliot.  Peggy Thomas, the Eliots’ daughter, remembers that her parents also sold asparagus in season on the delivery truck. Her father would often put the milk in customers’ refregerators if they weren’t home. He had Holstein and then later Jersey cows. Peggy mentioned that in the 1935 Flood, her Dad could not get the milk truck through the dip in the road near the Great American.  Mr. Elliot was in the business for 25 years and in 1948 sold out to Folsom’s Dairy that had bought out King’s Dairy on North Chenango Street. These were not farms, only bottling and delivery businesses. The Middleham Farm is no more.

Tarbell Farms was one of the largest dairies in the area and famous for its rich Guernsey milk, high in butterfat.   Barbara Benstein, a niece of Alice Wightman, used to help in the office during her summer vacations. Alice Wightman who had been the bookkeeper for Tarbell Guernsey Farms since 1918, had married the chief herdsman, Glenn Wightman, Otis Wightman’s father. Barbara said the milk was certified raw milk that was accepted after the pasteurization laws came into effect. The cows were washed before milking and everyone in the barn wore white outfits. Cleanliness was the order of the day. The milk was tested for bacteria count every 30 to 60 days and the milk, bottled at the farm, was shipped to the Waldorf Astoria.  When pasteurization began at the farm, Barbara remembers the huge vats in which the milk was heated. The process was named after Louis Pasteur who discovered that spoilage organisms could be inactivated by applying heat at temperatures below its boiling point. It makes milk safe by destroying bacteria that can be harmful to health. It also improves the keeping quality of milk. Then there were vats for the homogenization process that broke up the globules of fat to a smaller size so it mixed uniformly with the milk.  This is done by pumping the milk the milk through a small opening at high pressure. There was no more “cream at the top.” It is better suited for shipment in paper containers.  In the early 1950s Tarbell Farms began to have local milk delivery as it became more of a hassle to get the milk to New York City. When I came to Greene in 1961, Art Vickers was our milkman and we must have had unhomogenized milk because I remember the thick cream on the top. Tarbell Guernsey Farms became Wightman’s Guernsey Farms around  1960  with Alice Wightman as part owner. It was sold in 1963 and is no more.

Trenna Najarian reminisced about her family farm in Hillcrest, Everett and Thompson. It was run by her uncle and father and they had Guernsey cows. She remembers the huge vats for pasteurization and then the assembly line for the bottling and capping. (Remember the cardboard caps?) They had several milk routes and two trucks.  Trenna said her childhood was idyllic; she loved being in the barn near her father.  In the 1950s, she was getting ready to go away to college and her father wanted a change. He remodeled one of the barns into a dairy bar and sold 28 flavors of ice cream. I’m sure most of you had ice cream at the Everett and Thompson Dairy Bar on Chenango Street. The photo is of the Dairy Bar after it was sold to the Lees in the 1970s. Everett and Thompson is no more.

Recently, a dairy farmer who still has a productive farm said, “What goes around comes around” referring to the new present emphasis of buying locally produced fruits and vegetables and also a growing demand for raw milk. There is a very interesting website called that touts the benefits of raw milk. It states that real milk comes from cows that eat green grass,green feed,silage,hay and root vegetables. Real milk is neither pasteurized nor homogenized. Real milk contains butterfat ,lots of it and no additives. A 2006 study reported that children who drink unpasteurized milk resulted in large reductions in the incidence of asthma, excema and hay fever. Pasteurization kills good bacteria.

In New York, raw milk sales are legal on the farm if the farmer has a license from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Also, the farmer must have a sign that states that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization. The state routinely inspects retail raw milk for pathogens, something that is not done for raw milk for pasteurization.

Whether it be pasteurized or unpasteurized, the delivery of milk in glass bottles from local dairies has disappeared here. Bill Lenga is researching two names from the past that have surfaced on glass bottles: E.O Stanford and Clifford Greene, both from Greene. If you know anything about these names, please contact me. The plastic coated paper milk carton was first  introduced in the grocery stores and then in 1964 the plastic bottle, and home delivery ceased in Greene.  It is no more.

Enjoy the painting and cherish the farms still operating in Chenango County.