TIDBITS ABOUT THE CHEESE INDUSTRY OF HERKIMER COUNTY, NY


Browsing through our 1869 township directories, you'll note the numerous residents who took part in the thriving local cheese industry as dairy farmers, cheesemakers, box makers, and tradesmen. The first cheese factory in the United States was built in Oneida County, where New York State's Cheese Museum is located at the Erie Canal Village, Rome, NY (information about Erie Canal Village on our links page). According to Bill McKerrow, whose ancestors owned the "Fairfield Centennial", "Crystal Spring Farm" and "McKerrow's 999 Factories", further information on the cheese industry is available at the Rome Historical Society, 133 West Court St., Rome, NY 13440. In addition to Dorothea S. Ives' book Herkimer county Cheese, two other valuable resources are Chedderland, U.S.A by Robert Lake and Jesse Williams by Fritz Rahmer.

The following list of cheese factories in Herkimer County was abstracted from both the book Herkimer County Cheese: The History of a Famous Industry, written by Dorothea S. Ives, Salisbury, New York, and the book Herkimer County at 200. An 1899 map showing their locations, issued by the New York State Commissioner of Agriculture, is provided in the latter book.

SALISBURY
1. Cold Creek
2. Avery & Ives
3. Cook, Ives & Co.
4. Old Salisbury

MANHEIM
5. New Manheim
6. Snells Bush - owner Jacob Zoller won a medal of excellence at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Zoller was also proprietor of the Zoller, Fort Willett and Elm Grove factories.
7. Manheim Cold Spring
8. Manheim State Hill
9. Brockett & Carley
10. J. J. Cook

RUSSIA
11. Cold Brook
12. D. McArthurs
13. Laning
14. Sunrise
15. Carpenter
16. Lanning
17. Miles Moore
18. G. Henckley
19. W. N. Irwin
20. Poland

DANUBE
21. Newville Association
22. Crystal Spring
23. Elm Grove
24. Glenside
25. Hickory Grove

STARK
26. Cramers Corners
27. Starkville
28. Whipple
29. Brush
30. Staring

NORWAY
31. White Creek
32. Norway Association
33. Norway
34. Black Creek
35. J. Murphy
36. Western & Tompkins
37. Gray

GERMAN FLATS
38. Dennison Corners
39. Fulmer Creek
40. Morts
41. Paine's Hollow
42. Rising Star
43. Crims

SCHUYLER
44. East Schuyler
45. Ruby
46. Schuyler Centennial
47. Sterling
48. West Schuyler
49. Short Lots
50. L. P. Lints

COLUMBIA
51. Columbia Center
52. Miller's Mills
53. Elizabethtown

WARREN
54. Brockways
55. Caswells Corners
56. Crains Corners
57. Starkweathers
58. Hendersons Association
59. Jordanville
60. Kingdom
61. Cullen

WINFIELD
62. North Winfield
63. Bartlett
64. West Winfield

LITCHFIELD
65. Cedar Lake
66. Cedarville
67. North Litchfield
68. Gulph
69. Quinlaven

FRANKFORT
70. Gilt Edge
71. E. E. Jones
72. Owens

HERKIMER
73. Herkimer
74. Nellis
75. Kast Bridge
76. Countrymans
77. Smalls Bush
78. Pine Grove
79. Shells Bush
80. Springbeck

NEWPORT
81. Hassendever
82. Bernner
83. Clover Leaf
84. Newport Hill
85. McNierny
86. Shed Brook
87. McKerrows 999

OHIO
88. Ohio Building Co.
89. Fisher Dairy

FAIRFIELD
90. Middleville
91. Fairfield Centennial
92. Old Fairfield
93. La Rue
94. Comstock
95. M. J. Newman
96. Bartow Hill
97. Fairfield Dairy Asso'n
98. Fenner
99. A. Davis
100. Kellar

LITTLE FALLS
101. Burt Grove
102. Springstock
103. Little Falls
104. Eaton Bush
105. Clover Valley
106. Hill Factory
107. Mohawk Valley 108. Casler

Most of the above were small family-owned businesses, employing a few local residents. W. McKerrow's "Crystal Spring Farm" factory was known to be in operation between 1899 and 1918 and Alex McKerrow's "Fairfield Centennial" was still in operation in 1906 (ref. Bulletin #8 of "Butter and Cheese Factories, Milk Stations and Condenseries in the State of New York" for the season of 1906).

The following passage comes from Herkimer County at 200, pages 169 - 172:

As the wheat market moved west, the farmers of Herkimer County turned to dairying. The land is well suited to raising and keeping cattle, especially milk cows. Milk, as has been noted, was "stored" in the form of cheese, which keeps for months and can be handled and shipped easily.

Settlers brought their cheesemaking skills from New England and adapted them to local circumstances. Initially, women were the labor force: they milked the cows and made the cheese. The cows were milked twice a day, but there was not enough daylight to make cheese after the evening milking, so the mild was cooled and kept until morning. By then, the cream had come to the top; it was skimmed off and added later in the cheesemaking. Part of the cream was often set aside to make butter, a commonplace to the farmer but a luxury to those who did not have their own cows.

Cheesemaking began with the mixing of the morning milk with the skimmed evening milk, typically in a large, flat pan. Rennet was added, causing the mix to curdle. After furhter processing, including draining and salting, the curd was packed into the molds that gave it its size and shape as cheese. Rennet was the key to the whole process. At first it was made locally, from the stomach of a nursing calf, but, about the time of the Civil War, commercially made rennet in tablet form began to be used. A leader in the development of sanitary and uniform rennet tablets was the Cris Hansen Laboratories of Little Falls, which later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Its former buildings were occupied by Redco Foods.

Throughout the nineteenth century, cheese was a major product of Herkimer County, but, about mid-century, the methods of cheesemaking changed. As succeeding generations of farmers polished their cheesemaking skills, both the process and the equipment used became more complex. Eventually, it developed that one farmer, who was perhaps more efficient or the owner of better equipment than his neighbors, would offer to make their cheese as well as their own. In effect, he would buy their milk and make cheese in bulk. Thus the factory system was born; factories were rather close together by modern standards, since they had to be within the range of horse-drawn transport, with allowance for the poor condition of the old dirt roads.

Harry Burrell was a Salisbury farmer who turned to cheese buying. He established such a reputation for fair dealing that, locally, his practices were accepted as a standard. A deal "the way Harry Burrell would make it" was acceptable to anyone. Burrell prospered and eventually moved to Little Falls. In 1829 he began shipping cheese to England.

Burrell had a genuine interest in improving the lot of the farmers who were his source of supply, and always considered himself one of them. His son David established a business which made available to dairymen the latest technological equipment. The Burrells made the first cream separator and introduced the ensilage system, which gretly lengthened the production period of the dairy cow, the ensiled corn or hay being nearly the equivalent of fresh green feed. In 1928 Burrell's company, still controlled by his descendants, combined with several similar concerns to become the Cherry-Burrell Corporation, a leader in the manufacturing of stainless-steel dairy and food equipment. Sixty years later, this firm employed about two hundred people.

As the volume of Herkimer County cheese increased, the marketing system that evolved to serve it could best be described as "helter-skelter". Buyers and brokers wandered through the countryside, making contact directly with individual producers; this made competitive bidding difficult and inhibited the development of much-needed product standards. A group of interested individuals therefore arranged for an open-air market in Little Falls, which was already the center of the cheese trade. Bringing buyers and sellers together at one time gave both groups a chance to maximize their results. The cheesemakers could compare the prices of different buyers, while the buyers culd compare the quality and appearance of the products of different makers. The size of the supply could also be readily seen, so that price adjustments could have their proper effect on both consumption and future supply.

A principal force behind all of this production, buying, selling, and marketing was the remarkablly high quality of Herkimer County cheese. It earned a national reputation for excellence, which inspired both imitators and competitors. In the early 1900s, Governor Hoard of Wisconsin would say to Owen D. Young: "Young man, we've made more Herkimer County cheese in Wisconsin than you ever made in Herkimer County." The ethics of this aside, the great successes of the county's dairymen created a wider market for quality cheese than had previously existed, and into this market came cheesemakers throughout the country, including, significantly, those in Wisconsin.

[Note: further information about dairy farming, union milk strikes, farmer's organizations, and the Grange is in the book Herkimer County at 200.]


The following short passages, showing representative days in the life of a dairy farmer, come from the small book "Town of Salisbury 1797 - 1997 Bicentennial Celebration" and were sent in to us by Douglas J. Ingalls.

6/1/00 This excerpt comes from the full diary owned by sisters Sarah Timmerman Israel and Nancy Cioch. Nancy transcribed the diary back in 1996 and contributed a transcript to the Salisbury Bicentennial Committee to use for the 1997 celebration. Nancy is considering writing a book about Willard Kilts (married to their Great aunt) and would love to hear from others interested in the Kilts family, Willard's friends and associates mentioned, and the area they lived in.

An excerpt from Willard Kilts' diary, Town of Salisbury, written in 1892:

Thursday, April 28, 1892 - Today was rainy and gloomy all day. We all did the farm chores in the morning; cleaned the cow barn, and fed all of the stock. Charlie worked in the cheese house most of the day. I weighed the milk this morning and that we had 777 pounds.

I helped John hitch the colt and drove her to Will Goodell's and then to Ed's and back. She drove nice. Before he left, he and I hitched the blacks to the wagon. I got the boards off the banking around the house and cleaned the straw away from the house wall. I cleaned up where we had been sawing firewood, rolled up the skids, and large sticks of timber. When John came back, he helped draw some large chunks of wood down to the woodshed. Mike finished up the other chores and then helped John & I get a load of hay from the lower barn for the colts.

After dinner, I hitched Lill to the old buggy and went to Salisbury Corners. I wanted to settle with Charles Mang on the new cows I bought from him. I paid him $10 and gave him my note for the balance of $60. He is interested in buying my colt which we have been training and, will stop over in a day or so to see her.

I then went to Ives Hollow and ordered 150 cheese boxes from Metcalf at 10 cents each. He will deliver them on Saturday afternoon. I told Metcalf that I would settle with him at that time. I stopped at Stahl's and bought 10# of fish at 8 cents = 80 cents paid and 4 oranges for 10 cents. I wanted to see Congdon about selling him some beef but he was not at home.

Tuesday, May 14, 1892 - The weather was fair all day, then it rained at night. We all did the milking in the morning. Mike took care of the cows, and John took care of the horses while I did some writing. Mike said his little boy was sick. I told him to take black Fanny and the new buggy and take him to the doctor. Mike and his wife and boy left about 9 o'clock and got back about chore time.

John and I drew 2 loads of manure and got a load of hay from the lower barn. We put up 4 bags of oats and 2 bags barley. After dinner, I took the grain to Ives Hollow to have it ground. I drove Lill & bay Fanny. I paid 49 cents for the grist bill. I got 10 high cheese boxes from Metcalf for twin cheese and paid $1. Then I drove up to Eaton's and got some lumber for the hay rigging and wagon box and 4 cedar posts. I paid him in full $4.46. The bridge between our place and Brockett's is torn up. It is very bad crossing there. The boys and I will have to work on it soon.

While I was gone, Charlie, John, and the women cleaned the cellar. My sister and my wife milked in my place at night. Charlie made cheese and churned the butter in the morning.

We plan on turning the cattle out for the first time tomorrow.

Source: Town of Salisbury 1797 - 1997 Bicentennial Celebration




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Created: 2/20/99
Updatedd: 6/1/00
Copyright © 1992 Herkimer County Historical Society
Copyright © Dorothea S. Ives
Copyright © 1996 Nancy Cioch
Copyright © 1998, 1999 Martha S. Magill/ William McKerrow
All Rights Reserved.