Farms and Dairies

A conversation with Don MacKay led me to this week's history lesson. Don's father was the owner of Lilac Hedge Dairy on Salisbury Street and Don took the business over when his Dad retired. Our families were friends and active in the Holden Grange many years ago. When I asked him if he had any information about this subject, he rose to the challenge. So I must give credit to Don and, he in turn gave credit to Brad Blodget the local expert on dairies and milk bottles. Most of the following was contributed by these two men and I have added a few facts that I learned a bout farming in the town.

The first residents of Holden were mainly interested in finding good land on which to grow crops and graze animals so that they might feed their families. In the beginning, our country was, to a great extent, agrarian. But it is a faraway place in history that Holden was a farming community. Our farming became automated; when this automation arrived, many small farmers were forced to sell fields and dairy stock. But before it did we had prosperous farmers who worked hand-in-hand with the dairymen. Some of us still try to grow the easy things in our small kitchen gardens in order to have fresh vegetables in the summer; but we could not feed our families from first picking in June to harvest time on the land that surrounds our suburban houses. We pick our fresh food from the grocery store counters and much of that is shipped to us from outside New England during the better part of the year.

The dairyman ran his own milk route, but as the population grew, so did the demand, causing dairies and routes to merge in order to serve the larger demand. To differentiate between dairy farmers and dairies: dairies bought milk from farmers and put milk into glass bottles. The bottles had each dairy's own name embossed or pyroglazed (colored lettering) on them; some of the operations were as a small as 10 quarts a day. These dairies distributed milk on established routes. The dairy farmer raised the cows, had pasture land, and raised feed, hay and corn. At first the cows were all milked by hand, until the electric milking machine made that operation more efficient, and farmers could have more cows. Eventually, the milk collection, that is, from cow to milk can, was regulated and more sterile conditions were necessary. Orrie Mason told me about his Dad meeting the Boston Milk train at 6:55 a.m. at the Jefferson railroad station. If Mr. Mason missed the train, the milk was taken brought back to the farm. In recent times, refrigerated reservoirs stored the milk until it could be piked up by a transport truck designed especially for the job.

The establishment of large Midwestern farms and the railroad caused a decline in agriculture in New England. But not to be bested, Yankee ingenuity turned to industry and the town continued to thrive with the manufacture of textiles and textile machinery. Mr. Zook writes that prior to and following World War I, the town witnessed an increase in population. Families moved from the city to live and be spare-time farmers. In 1905, 135 people were farming and that jumped to 586 in 1929. Sixty-six of these were full-time and 519 part-time. About 35 percent of the local produce sold in Holden came from these part-timers. One of the full time farmers was in Chaffins, Mr. Swenson, who ran a successful market garden for several years with a store on his property. Then came the stock market crash and the so-called "twilight" farmer was glad for his little plot of garden with which to feed his family.

Some of the families whose living depended entirely on farming became dairy farmers and in the early 20th century, before the war and the depression, we saw the beginning of dairy operations. In 1898, the Lilac Hedge Dairy was established at the corner of Salisbury and Flagg Streets in Worcester by William MacKay. After Mr. MacKay's death in 1927, the dairy was moved to Holden by his son Ralph. In 1962, Donald succeeded his father and ran the dairy under the name Lilac Hedge until the merger with Sunrise Dairy of Paxton in 1965. Named Sunrise Dairy, it was operated by Don MacKay and Elmer Hair from 1965 – 1973. The business had seven trucks of their own plus processing and packaging for seven other dairies. Sunrise Dairy was the last processing and bottling operation in the Town of Holden.

Don MacKay is the great grandson of George S. Graham, the founder of Mapledale Dairy. Established by Albert A. Graham in 1908 on Malden Street near the West Boylston line, he inherited the farm from George, his father. Albert A. moved to the corner of South Wachusett and Shrewsbury Streets about 1934 where he built a dairy to house his bottling operation and from which he distributed milk to a growing list of customers. He kept the farm on Malden Street and a herd of cows until 1932. H.P. Hood Milk Co., bought the business in 1941. The house is now occupied by a photographer who uses the dairy building as a studio.

In 1908, Albert Condon operated Glenwood Farm near the corner of Glenwood Street and Parker Avenue in Chaffins. This business was in existence until 1943.

In 1910, Edgewood Farm, owned by Mr. H. L. Paine ran dairy that is supposed to have been on Highland Street.

George C. Bond's farm and milk route ran from 1912 to 1934 and was based at Bond Road near the Rutland line. This farm, now owned by the Sandstrom family still produces and sells milk in bulk.

Somewhere on Shrewsbury Street there was a dairy run by Samuel Aronoff between 1915 and 1922. Very little is known about Mr. Aronoff.

The tornado of 1953 destroyed the barn at the Clair[e] Lane Dairy. The farm and dairy located on Clair[e] Lane off Causeway Street were owned by John Langer and the business survived from 1928 to 1956.

"Over South" in the Reservoir Street South Road section, Orville Packard owned a farm with about six cows and ran the farm and his own bottling operation until about 1910. The original buildings still exist on Reservoir Street. Continuing in the same neighborhood, L. E. Garney operated Variety Farm; his bottling operation was short-lived (1933 – 1939). He sold the farm to George Drawbridge who produced milk for Lilac Hedge Dairy.

Mountain Dairy was established in 1935 by Edward Pianowski in Chaffins near the West Boylston line. The bulk of his milk came from the Griff Farm on High Street. That dairy is no longer in existence.

Laurel Hill Dairy started in Rutland, later was purchased by the Keith Brothers. Charles and Harold Keith of Holden had no dairy of their own but bought milk already packaged from Pinecroft Dairy and later from Sunrise Dairy. Laurel Hill Dairy was the last dairy to deliver milk in its own bottles from Holden, ceasing in 1980.

Saving Cleighton Farms until last; it was originally located on Salisbury Street at the farm owned by the W. A. Jordan family. Charlie B. Jordan, a son, ran the business until Charlie's sons, Howard and Sumner took over. Milk was bottled and peddled from 836 Salisbury Street until 1943 when they purchased a farm in Rutland. Cows were kept at Salisbury Street until 1963, the same year bottling ceased at Rutland and the year Sumner Jordan died of a heart attack. Lilac Hedge Dairy did the processing until early 1970 when Sunrise bought the routes. Under the management of Howard's sons and two grandsons, the farm in Rutland still produces milk on a large commercial scale. The two younger boys are the great-great grandsons of George S. Graham, the originator of Mapledale Farm, continuing the family tradition. The Jordan Farm buildings on Salisbury Street are still in existence and are the location of a commercial tree farm.

Orrie Mason, one of the last dairy farmers in Holden, told of a Mr. Harry Rice of Sudbury who drove from 50 to 75 cows and heifers up Route 62 to be summer pastured between April and November. That pasture was near the North Worcester Fox and Coon Club.

There were other dairy farmers who delivered milk, and other farms who had dairy cows and sold their milk in bulk or picked up milk and took it to processing plants. Some of these names were Oldakowski, Urbanovitch, Carlson, Sobol, Maynard and, I am sure, a number of others.

Those who delivered milk, did not always have bottles with names imprinted; bottles with names are still being found and through searching and talking with long time residents, we know where the dairies and farms were located. The processing and transporting of milk has become so sophisticated that it is difficult to envision the old milk wagon with its jugs from which the farmer measured and poured milk into the customer's containers.

And we still need milk to drink and nourish our families; it may never go out of style.

Jane P. Neale