Dairy Industry and the Importance to Union Township Farmers
By Ruth Ann Montgomery
The day is long past when every family kept a cow to provide the daily milk supply for the family. When there were few
residents in the village, barns and pastures for farm animals were common. For many years, the settlers did not fence in
their animals and cows were allowed to run the streets of Evansville. Instead, homeowners fenced in their yards to keep
the animals from damaging lawns and trees.
The first settlers to arrive in the Evansville area were farmers and most had small children with a need for a daily supply of
milk. Out of necessity, the farmers raised a few cows to provide milk for drinking, or to make their own butter and
Henry Spencer, one of Evansville's early settlers, reported that he owned two milk cows in 1850. He had also produced
300 pounds of butter and 100 pounds of cheese in his home during the year preceding the census. Erastus Quivey, who
owned the grist mill had three milk cows. Both the Spencer and Quivey families lived in the small settlement and owned
over 200 acres each.
As the area became more populated the land that had been used for agriculture was turned into residential and commercial
buildings. Room for farm animals diminished and the extensive pastures and fields dwindled within the village.
When the official government body of the Village of Evansville was formed in 1867, one of the first orders of business for
the trustees was to create an ordinance prohibiting destruction of sidewalks, trees and other village property by horses,
mules, oxen or other domestic animals. Cows were allowed to run on the streets between 4 o'clock a.m. and 9 o'clock p.
m. so they could be led from the pastures to the barns for milking. A village animal yard was set up to take in cattle found
running on the street during the midnight hours and a local butcher was put in charge of the yard.
Keeping a cow in a village meant many chores. During the warmer months, one of the family members had to lead the
cow to a pasture on the edge of the town. Someone had to do the twice daily milking and cleaning the barn. These were
chores the village dweller would usually rather have someone else handle. Before the first dairy, the town dweller had
already given up butchering his own meat and turned that job over to the local butcher. Other food goods were
purchased from the general store. With the opening of the first dairy, home delivery of milk replaced the village family's
Evansville's first milk route was advertised by William Nelms in the April 21, 1875 Evansville Review. "Milk! Delivered
promptly to any part of town," Nelms announced in his ad. He also had noted that he had: "a number of Good Cows. I
am prepared to deliver milk at reasonable prices in any quantity."
A year later, Wendell Gleaves advertised he would deliver fresh "new milk twice a day at the door of customer's
residences". He noted his plans to give milk from the same cow for children.
In 1879 Frank Bemis announced his milk route. He advertised as the "City Dairy. Fresh milk delivered promptly to all
parts of the city, special attention given to furnishing milk from the same cow each day for children." Bemis' ad was very
similar to the one run previously by Gleaves.
By 1880 there were 1,067 milk cows in Union township. Most dairy products were being used to make butter and
cheese. Over 200,000 pound of cheese was produced in Union township in 1879.
Families who kept a cow in the village became fewer and fewer in the 1880s. The Review noted that many people were
tearing down their old wooden fences. It was no longer necessary to protect the yards from the intrusion of cows and
cattle as ordinances had been passed to keep the animals off the streets. "There is no uneasiness from midnight intrusion
of Old Crumble", read an April 17, 1888 article in the newspaper.
Milk routes became more numerous. Arthur L. Bemis and a Mr. McEwen were both listed as Milk Wagon proprietors in
business directories of 1885. William Gleave had renamed his dairy the East Side Dairy.
W. D. Hoard of Fort Atkinson advertised his "Hoard's Dairyman" publication in the local papers in 1885. The paper was
issued to dairyman who wanted to improve their herds and make the most of their produce in the markets. Hoard
eventually became Wisconsin's governor and in 1889 established the first Wisconsin Food and Dairy Commission. One
of his first appointments to the commission was a butter and cheese expert. The dairy industry got a boost from the
creation of this Commission and the promotion of the state's dairy products would eventually bring Wisconsin into the lead
in milk production.
As Evansville became a city, the clip-clop of the milk man's horse and wagon making its rounds to residences was a
common early morning and evening noise. New names were added to the roster of Evansville's milk men.
A. P. Ingalls sold his milk route to A. M. Hungerford in March 1900 and within a few months, J. W. Morgan & Co.
wagon makers built a new milk wagon for Mr. Hungerford. The milk for the Hungerford route came from the Jersey cows
of Frank Gibbs, who lived on North Main Street (now North Fourth Street). Many of Gibbs' cows were descendants of
the 1893 Chicago World's Fair champion dairy cow, Brown Bessie.
After making his deal with Frank Gibbs in April 1902, Hungerford announced in the Enterprise, "I am now prepared to
furnish the public a better grade of milk than ever before. A visit to Mr. Gibbs' herd will fully convince you that he has the
finest herd of Jersey cows in this county. I remain yours, A. M. Hungerford, Milk Man."
In 1902, J. W. Christison advertised as "The Milk Man". Christison was keenly aware of the public's awareness of the
illness that could be carried by bacteria in milk. Christison and other dairies began to put in sterilizing equipment to protect
their customers and their business. Christison noted he had sterilized milk in sterilized bottles, so that all the city dweller
had to do was drink the milk and return the bottles.
Christison sold the Evansville Milk Depot to Locke Pierce and Burr Tolles in June 1907. Pierce and Tolles held onto the
dairy for three years, then sold it to D. Maloy of Rutland, a small community just north of Union.
The farming community around Evansville became famous for its fine Holstein cattle. When the Tri-county Holstein
Breeders' Association held their sale in 1919 the highest price paid for a cow was $700. Several of the local dairies were
also owned by Holstein Breeders. H. A. Knapp and Sons and F. B. Green and Son were listed as Holstein breeders in
Farmers also began to pamper their cows. Henry Porter of Maple Park Dairy in Jug Prairie, west of Evansville, had a
cattle barn with a watering system for the cows. There was a 25-barrel tank above the stanchions with pipes that
delivered water to individual drinking cups for each cow. The water system had been costly, but Porter estimated that it
had increased the output of milk by about 125 pounds a day. Porter had a herd of 22 cows and he reported that the
system had paid for itself within a month.
Porter reasoned that if a cow had to leave the barn and drink from a water tank on a cold day, the animal would not drink
enough water to keep the milk flowing. With the drinking water system, the cows did not have to leave the barn to drink
from the water tank.
Porter was considered a modern farmer, as he also had a milking machine. He was recognized by the Prairie Farmer
magazine as a local dairy authority. The magazine praised Wisconsin farmers like Porter. "The drinking fountain and the
milking machine are dairy helps along with the silo and tested cows and Wisconsin farmers are alert to all these
O. H. Perry and his son, Stanley, purchased the Carl Brunsell farm on Cemetery Road in March 1920 and opened a
dairy. They called their new enterprise the Bonnycroft Dairy Farm. In addition to their regular milk route, the Perry's also
made cottage cheese.
Margery Ware was the only woman known to have operated a dairy and milk route of her own. She operated her dairy
for many years but given the right offer, she was willing to sell and did, at least twice. In 1922, she sold her business to
Byron Reese, who operated the Hill Crest Dairy. Margery kept her cows and decided she would sell her milk in bulk to
the D. E. Wood Butter Company, instead of bottling and delivery it to her customers.
Later, she went back to her regular route. Then in 1926, the Jamison Dairy, owned by Smith Jamison and Frank Green,
bought the Ware Dairy. Again, Mrs. Ware kept her herd of Jersey and Guernsey cattle and sold the milk in bulk to the
Local farmer, John C. Robinson, who usually was noted for his beef cattle, led a contingent of Wisconsin dairy farmers on
a special railroad trip from Wisconsin to Idaho to advertise the state's dairy business. The trip was billed as the "Dairy Pail
The headlines of the Review on June 21, 1923 read, "Prosperity Will Follow the Trail of the Dairy Pail." The stock cars
carried the best of Wisconsin's dairy breeds, including Holsteins, Guernseys, Milking Shorthorns, Brown Swiss and
Jersey . Harvey Little, who lived east of Evansville had two Milking Shorthorns on the train. John Robinson represented
the Wisconsin Livestock Association, and there were leaders in the Holstein-friesian Association, the Brown Swiss
Association and Guernsey Associations, who were ready to set up exhibits and demonstrate Wisconsin's leadership in the
The Evansville area was gaining a national reputation for its Holstein cows. Some of the local dairy farmers who were
livestock breeders, also operated their own dairies. Jamison and his son-in-law, Frank Green, owned the Alfakorn Dairy
Farm and kept Holstein cows.
In September 1926, they purchased the Commercial House barn from Ella Meggott and used it to house their horses for
the milk wagons. The Jamisons moved their bottling plant into a room in the Evansville Ice Company building.
The Ice Company had a refrigeration system to keep the milk cool. Frank Green explained the operation. Milk was
cooled to 55 degrees as soon as it came from the cow at both the Alfakorn Dairy and the Ware Dairy. Then it was taken
to the bottling plant where it was cooled by the ice cooler, bottled, and placed in cases packed with ice for city delivery.
By December, Margery Ware had resumed her city milk route on West Main Street and was also in charge of the
straining and bottling department at the Ice Company location.
Another dairy changed hands in 1926. George Mabie rented Harvey Knapp's Dairy. Knapp sold all 50 head of his
Holstein cattle in February 1926 and Mabie replaced them with Guernsey cows from a farm in Richland County and a
purebred sire. The Dairy continued to operate under the Knapp Dairy name.
Mabie's operation seemed to go smoothly, until the summer when he had trouble getting his customers to return the glass
bottles. "These bottles cost the dairymen seven and one half cents each and every bottle is needed in their business, yet
despite this, people set them down the cellar, back in the pantry or on the ash heap," Mabie lamented in an article in the
July 26, 1926 Review.
Mabie had found over ten dollars worth of his bottles in the public dump. By the following week, Mabie was convinced
that advertising in the Review was a success. The day after the paper was published he had to get a truck to gather up all
the bottles people had put out for him to retrieve.
H. A. Knapp reopened his dairy in 1929 on a farm in the Jug Prairie area. Lawrence Janes’ family operated the farm and
Knapp ran the dairy.
A third dairy being operated in the late 1920s, owned by Oliver H. Perry & his son Stanley, was credited with being one
of the "Most productive small farms in Rock County" by R. T. Glassco, county agent for Rock County. The Perry's
owned an 80 acre farm, with thirty acres planed in tobacco and the remainder in corn, oats, and pasture. The farm had
two silos which held nearly 130 tons of silage. Perry's had a herd of 40 Jerseys, with a purebred Jersey bull, Successful
Perry's prices seemed very reasonable by today's standards. Cream sold for 45 cents a pint, delivered to the customer's
door step. To support their image as productive and progressive farmers, the Perrys announced their affiliation with
several organizations concerned with the health and welfare of the dairy industry. Oliver and Stanley were members of the
Evansville Spray Ring, the Footville Cow Testing Assn. and the Rock County Farm Bureau.
Nine years after opening their dairy, Stanley Perry had taken over the business from his father. In 1935, the Bonnycroft
Dairy was also making and selling ice cream made in a "new Taylor direct expansion ice cream freezer".
The ice cream freezer could make two and one-half gallons of ice cream at a time. Perry remarked to the newspaper
reporter that the machine was easy to take apart and clean. "The freezer is one of the most sanitary machines on the
The ice cream could also be customized to fit the customer's taste. Evansville residents could even bring in their own
favorite recipe for homemade ice cream and have it frozen at the plant and delivered to their home.
By 1934, Margery Ware had dissolved her relationship with the Jamison and Green Dairy and was once again working
from her farm adjacent to the Evansville Country Club on the Brooklyn-Evansville Road. She purchased the milk route
operated by Jacob Nihart and installed a bottling machine to process her milk into bottles. She handled the home
deliveries as well, making runs in the morning and again at night.
Another business got its start as a dairy in 1922, when William P. Fleming and M. F. Vanderbilt of Viroqua purchased a
large ice house that had been operated by H. Fred Brunsell and A. Fellows. The men intended to operate both a milk
distributing business and an ice delivery business. The operation was a success, but following a fire that destroyed the
building and the ice-making machinery in 1935, Fleming decided to build a locker plant on the site. This was later sold to
Willard Waeffler and is today the Swiss Family Smokehouse on North Madison Street.
Dairies operating in the late 1930s included the Burnap Dairy run by H. A. Knapp, who had been operating a dairy off
and on for more than 20 years. O. H. Perry and his son, Stanley operated Perry's Dairy and the Croft Dairy on Croft
Road offered Grade A and pasteurize milk for home delivery. All were advertising in the Evansville Review in 1938.
Another dairy was operated on the north edge of Evansville on what was known as the Dehlia Fish farm. James Lamb
operated the dairy in 1931. He delivered milk twice a day, morning and evening. The farm was then sold to Peter Doyle,
who also operated a dairy at that location until his death in 1934. Then his son, Francis took over the business.
In September 1938, an announcement appeared in the Evansville Review that John W. Higgins had purchased the Doyle
Dairy. Higgins also owned the Pure Oil Station on the north edge of Evansville.
The Higgins Dairy offered pure Guernsey milk "for mothers who care". The cows for the dairy were kept on a farm at the
north end of Evansville. The dairy had raw milk, pasteurize milk, buttermilk, chocolate milk cottage cheese, butter and
cream that could be delivered.
The Higgins milk wagon was one of the last horse-drawn milk routes. Higgins closed the dairy in 1946 and moved to
With the closing of the Higgins dairy, the next owner of the dairy, Don Scott, was an agent of the Bowman Dairy. It was
the end of an era. The grocery stores which had usually carried canned milk began to compete with the local milk man.
The grocers now had refrigeration counters filled with a variety of milk, cream, and other dairy products. In the late 1940s
Evansville's grocery stores still offered free home delivery.
Although it was very convenient, the milk man's products needed special care. The milk could easily spoil or develop an
unpleasant flavor if left in the sun. There was also a rapid loss of the milk's vitamin value if the temperature was not kept
between 35 or 40 degrees.
To keep the milk fresh, the Wisconsin State Department of Agriculture recommended that customers have an insulated
box on their door step, so the milk man could place the milk in the box to insure its protection from the sun, warm
temperatures and the occasional prowling cat or dog.
The days of home delivery of milk lasted several more decades in Evansville, but none of the new milk men cared for their
own cows, processed their own milk, carefully selected the milk from the same cow for a family's children, sterilized the
bottles, and pasteurize the milk. Instead the milk was processed in large dairies in Madison and other distant cities.