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When moo juice was locally processed

Courtesy Photo Cream bottle cap seal from the Alpena Dairy Co. is seen in this photo provided by the Alpena County History website.

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.”

Courtesy Photo A Sunny Side milk bottle is seen in this photo provided by John Williams Jr.

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.

News Photo by Jeffrey Brasie A Shady Lane milk bottle is seen.

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.

Courtesy Photo A milk price schedule from 1961 is seen in this photo provided by John Williams Jr.

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.

Courtesy Photo Arthur Gennrich with his Sunny Side milk delivery truck is seen in this photo provided by Debbie Northrup.

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.

Courtesy Photo Lachine resident and milk bottle collector Kim J. Sumerix Jr. is seen with his sons, Allen and Noah, in this photo provided by Sumerix.

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

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

ALPENA COUNTY

Adam’s Dairy, Alpena

Alpena Co-Op Creamery, Alpena

Alpena Creamery Co., Alpena

Alpena Dairy, Alpena

Alpha Creamery, Alpena

Blanchard’s, 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

MONTMORENCY COUNTY

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.

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