When moo juice was locally processed
ALPENA — For the better portion of 125 years, raw milk was locally processed by more than 50 dairies in Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties.
Kim J. Sumerix Jr., of Lachine, has conducted in-depth research on regional dairy production. He became interested in milk bottles and related items at the age of 16.
Sumerix sponsors the website kountryfolk.com, which includes an entire category called MI Milkman. His research traces the region’s first milk delivery wagon to 1866 by Sunnyside Dairy Farms. The milk was transported in cream cans, with each order fulfilled by dipping a milk pitcher into the can.
In 1887, Rockfarm Dairy, of Alpena, began selling milk in glass quart bottles for 6 cents each. By the late 1890s, the Detroit, Bay City, and Alpena Railroad began transporting milk to Bay City cream stations producing butter and cheese.
“In 1932, there were 26 Alpena County registered dairies buying, selling, and bottling milk,” Sumerix added. “Many had plain glass bottles, with some offering their own caps for advertising.”
Alpena resident Margie Haaxma said her parents, Harold and Florence Werth, established Shady Lane Dairy, which purchased milk from 50 area dairy farms.
The facility was located on Parson Street, just off State Avenue. Haaxma recalled that, early on, the family dairy transported goods in horse-drawn carriages serving residences, schools, and other customers. Her parents would offer customers special-blend infant milk formulas. In the mid-1960s, Shady Lane acquired Legg Dairy.
In an October 1974 Alpena News account, Werth stated: “In the beginning, I thought we would be lucky to daily sell 500 quarts. By 1947, when we sold to a co-operative, and we were at 2,500 daily quarts.”
In 1964, Dean Food, of Flint, acquired Shady Lane, and, in 1966, McDonald Dairy purchased Dean. The Shady Lane complex was torn down in 1974.
Former Alpena resident John Williams Jr., now of Noblesville, Indiana, assembled a detailed Sunny Side Dairy history.
According to Williams, his great-grandfather, Otto Gennrich, originally from Germany, was known for his Holstein and Guernsey cows. His herds produced high-level butterfat for the Alpena Creamery Co.
In 1929, Gennrich purchased the Sunny Side dairy farm. In 1954, Sunny Side ceased production of their own farm milk and became distributors for Grand Rapids-based Dairyland Valley Lee products. Gennrich retired in 1957 and his son began acquiring dairy products from Flint’s Sealtest Dairy.
Up until 1980, when Sunny Side ceased operations, delivery was made to many of the region’s retail establishments and residential customers.
The Alcona Public Library and Historical Society offered insight on two dairies.
On the Alcona and Iosco County border lies Greenbush. In the early 1900s, German immigrant Carl Ernest Schmidt acquired 6,000 acres in the region, including Lake Huron shoreline. Part of that acreage was known as Serradella Farm. Schmidt had an active interest in what type of crops would best grow in the region’s sandy loam soil.
Later in his agri-career, Schmidt began to breed Holstein cattle, entering the dairy profession. Danish immigrant Otto Klein Sr. assisted with the breeding and dairy process. By the Great Depression’s arrival, Serradella Farm ceased operation.
Harrisville-based Springport Dairy originated as a 260-acre farm founded and managed in 1920 by Klein, who worked the Serradella Farm.
Klein’s two sons and, later, his son-in-law, took over the business. A local newspaper account revealed Klein Sr. died in a carbon monoxide incident in a Springport Dairy garage.
Williams’s research detailed many of the Alpena County milk producers instituted a cooperative bottle collection and exchange program because of glass shortages during World War II. In several instances, large dairy producers’ children married other dairy producers’ children, Sumerix said.
Richard Schultz, of Alpena, added that, at one time, if you collected enough cardboard lids from the milk bottles, you could get a free Saturday pass to the State Theatre.
Debbie Northrup, whose father was Arthur Gennich, of Sunny Side, commented: “Those dairymen worked seven days a week. I remember coming home from church and many times one of the small stores calling our house that they were out of milk, with Dad delivering milk on a Sunday. I don’t remember him ever saying no. Blizzards, he was out delivering. Moms had to have milk for their children.”
By the late-1980s, local milk production became a glimmer in Northeast Michigan’s rearview mirror. Cooperatives were formed and raw milk was transported to massive downstate production plants.
According to Jennifer Holton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, a significant portion of Northeast Michigan’s raw milk is now transported to the Michigan Milk Producers Association’s Ovid plant.
The MMPA website cites over a third of all milk marketed by them is processed at their Ovid plant. The web site also stated that, on a daily basis, the plant has a milk capacity of 5 million pounds.
Established in 1916, MMPA also operates facilities in Constantine and Middlebury, Indiana. The association operates a farm supply store in Mount Pleasant. Production focuses on milk, butter, nonfat and whole dry milk powder, condensed skim milk, cream, and cheese.
Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO who frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds. He is a former Alpena resident and resides in suburban Detroit.
List of historic Northeast Michigan dairies and creameries
Alcona County Creamery, Glennie
Alcona Cooperative Creamery, Harrisville
Glennie Milk Depot, Glennie
Harrisville Creamery, Harrisville
Mikado Cream Station, Mikado
Mikado Cheese Factory, Mikado
Serradella Farm, Greenbush
Springport Dairy, Harrisville
Spruce Valley Creamery, Spruce
Adam’s Dairy, Alpena
Alpena Co-Op Creamery, Alpena
Alpena Creamery Co., Alpena
Alpena Dairy, Alpena
Alpha Creamery, Alpena
Cloverleaf Dairy, Herron Road
Dietz/Blanchard Dairy, Alpena
Dietz’s Dairy, Alpena
Green Valley Dairy, Long Rapids
Harris Creamery, Alpena
Huron Creamery, Alpena
Legg Dairy, Alpena
Long Rapids Dairy, Long Rapids
Northern Creamery Co., Alpena
Northside Dairy, Alpena
Norway Point Dairy, Alpena
Orchard Hill Dairy. Long Rapids
Ox Bow Dairy, Alpena
Red Rose Dairy, Alpena
Reisers Dairy, Alpena
Rockfarm Dairy, Alpena
Roselawn Dairy, Alpena
Shady Lane Dairy, Alpena
Silver Line Dairy, Alpena
St. Charles Dairy, Ossineke
Sunlite Dairy, Alpena
Sunny Brook Dairy, Cathro
Sunny Side Dairy, Alpena
Baker and Son Dairy, Atlanta
C.E. Burns Dairy, Lewiston
Carrier Dairy, Hillman
Chapman Dairy, Hillman
Peter Harper Dairy, Atlanta
Pine Grove Dairy, Hillman
PRESQUE ISLE COUNTY
Bruning Dairy, Rogers City
Forest Dairy, Onaway
Hy-View Dairy, Onaway
Karr Dairy, Onaway
Karsten’s Farm Dairy, Rogers City
Pioneer Dairy, Posen
Presque Isle Dairy, Rogers City
Rogers City Milk Co., Rogers City
Sources: Various regional historic contacts, Alpena County Michigan History Facebook page, the Alcona Public Library and Historical Society and Kim J. Sumerix Jr.’s research and Kountry Folk web site.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Otto Gennrich purchased the Sunny Side dairy farm in 1929. His name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.