Wednesday, January 25, 2017

History of the Condensery in Deansboro, NY

The dairy situation in the Town of Marshall has a long, interesting and sometimes convoluted history. In the late 1800 (1886), farmers took their milk to one of two cheese factories. One was located down Mill Street (Route 315) near Oriskany Creek, and the other on Peck's Corners, both of which were in charge of J.H. Gazaly. The cheese factory near the Oriskany Creek burned in 1891, was rebuilt, and both closed in 1902. Apparently, there was also a station which took raw milk, according to early newspaper articles, and the surplus milk was sent to the factory to make cheese and butter. 
Reportedly, the station delivered 100 cans daily which were sent to the Mutual Milk Company in New York via the railroad. There is no mention of where this plant was located, except presumably  by the railroad: does anyone know?  This enterprise ended in 1900, or at least that's the last mention of a milk station other than the Condensery on Route 315, which was called the United States Condensed Milk Company, home of Sunshine Condensed Milk; Mohawk Condensed Milk Company; and finally Hinman Farm Products.
In the early days of the 20th century, with the cheese factory and the milk station closed, the question of what to do with the supply of milk which was produced became acute, and a group of industrious  citizens of the Town of Marshall met to organize a milk condensery.  The United States Condensed Milk Company was incorporated at Albany and commenced operation in August, 1902. The directors for the first year were Charles A. Hovey, Quentin McAdam, George I. Hovey, Howard E. Miller, Robert H. Hadcox, William Kimball, all of Deanville; and John  A. Roof, who hailed from Fort Plain, the site of another United States Condensed Milk plant which was founded in 1888. As a matter of fact, the plant in Deansboro was built and equipped under his supervision, and he was the first superintendent of the plant. 
United States Condensed Milk Plant

Capital stock of $50,000 was secured and a site was purchased on Mill Street (Route 315) adjoining the Ontario & Western rail road tracks, served with a special branch track, across from the railroad station. The main building, which still stands today, was 50x140 feet in size, and was two stories high. Grove Hinman and Hubert Bishopp were two carpenters on the job. There was also a round brick smoke stack 72 feet high, built of special ventilated brick, which was demolished in 1987. The milk was received in a wing on the west side, and a coal house was in the rear. At  the right of the entrance  hall were the business offices,  and adjoining were  lavatories and all sanitary  conveniences.  In the rear was a large store room and  back of this was the process  room,  with a  concrete  floor.  On the second floor  was the large vacuum pan, where the milk was condensed. The whole of the front portion of the building was given to the manufacture of tin cans and the cases in which the milk was shipped. The cans held 14 and 16 ounces, and each case contained 48 cans. The capacity of the plant was from 400 to 500 cases per day.

At least 50 people in the Town of Marshall were employed by the Condensery, which received large quantities of milk of "fine quality", no milk testing  less than 8%.  A whistle of about 10 or 15 feet was put on the Condensery to signal noontime and again when work stopped for the day. The whistle was also used as a signal for fire until the 1930s, when the motorized siren was installed in the fire house.  Patrons were sought and contracts signed, and they were in business.

In August, the contracts through January 1903 for the price of milk per hundred was 95 cents; September, $1.10; October $1.20; November $1.30; December $1.40; January $1.40. In the winter, it was reported that milk receipts shrank due to the feed for the cattle.

In  August of 1903, tragedy struck the Condensery in the form of a suicide of a foreman at the plant. Edward S. Grower, who took his own life, was described as a good workman and never appeared to be depressed in any way.  Even with this little setback, the plant expanded and farmers received the highest price for milk ever paid in the vicinity. The plant was described as "first class in every way." The price of milk delivered to the Condensery in May, 1904, was $1.45 per one hundred.

In  1904, a case came before the state in which the defendant was Patrick W. Madden of the Town of Marshall. Mr. Madden was accused of violating agricultural law by selling milk not up to standard. He sold milk to the United States Condensed Milk Company which contained some 88% of water and less than 12% milk solids. Mr. Madden claimed the milk was tampered with and denied diluting it at all, but the judgment was for the plaintiff.

That same year, the supply fell off slightly owing, in great measure, to the "annoyance caused by flies." The price remained the same ($1.45 per hundred).

The Condensery used more water than that which could be supplied by the Deansboro Water Company, so a new reservoir, located on West Hill, was built around 1905 by the company, and was used as a storage reservoir from which to fill the Deansboro Water Company's reservoir when necessary. They also installed a large Seneca Falls pump at Blanding's mill (located south of the plant) and attempted to get water from the Oriskany Creek so there would be ample supply for the plant.

At an annual stockholder's meeting of the United States Condensed Milk Company, the report of the superintendent showed that the past season - 1906 -had been a prosperous one. Indeed, foundations were laid for another addition to the Condensery. Plans were for the receiving room to be enlarged, and for covering the entrance for the teams of horses. The milk supply at the Condensery  was said to be very good and the future predicted to be bright; considerable overtime work was required to take care of the milk. The farmers were getting higher prices than ever for their milk. Things were going along smoothly, and there came a slight bump in the road.

In July, 1908, a number of people were laid off, due to the shipments of milk in forty quart cans. The help which were laid off were those who worked at making the cans and the labels. The "vacation" came to an end in September when those workers were back at their posts.

An interesting case that attracted considerable attention was an action entitled "United States Condensed Milk Company of Deansboro against Max and Jacob Smith of New York."  According to the suit, during a stated period the Condensery in Deansboro shipped a great quantity of milk to New York City. 727 cans in all were used. An inspector found that the cans shipped were undergoing a change: the initials U.S.C.M. Co. were being removed and the initials M. Smith & Son were taking their place. The Condensery sued the New York men for $4,650, or $50 a can. The jury found for the United States Condensed Milk Company, and determined that anyone tampering with milk cans in the future would face a fine. This victory was notable, and had a important impact on the milk business. Before this came to light, there had been numerous complaints about the purloining of milk cans.

After this triumph, the supply of milk fell off again, this time reportedly due to the expense of feed for the cows; therefore, the price of milk fell off as well. Still, the Condensery employed a force of men to build a dam in the channel of the abandoned Chenango Canal, which created a pond from which ice was cut for the Condensery ice house. And spirits were high: an editorial in 1906 proclaimed that "the little village is taking on quite a boom.  Houses are scarce, and...the business of the town is increasing right along."

However, in 1909, the directors of the United States Condensed Milk Company petitioned the court for a voluntary dissolution of said corporation. Justice DeAngelis of the court in Utica, who presided over the petition, asked the directors to show cause why the corporation should be dissolved, and the directors stated that they had "lost a large portion of capital stock, and were unable to conduct business satisfactorily." The United States Condensed Milk Company was subsequently sold to St. Johnsville Condensed Milk Company, and was known as the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company (sometimes called Mohawk Valley Condensed Milk Company).

Before that transaction, the Condensery announced that no new contracts would be entered into until the affairs of the corporation were settled. Until that time, a large amount of milk was accumulated in storage. Suggestions were made that  a creamery - such as the one in Paris - and another cheese factory were the answers to the set-back in the dairy business.

Neither was necessary. In April, 1909, the transaction from the United States Condensed Milk Company to Mohawk Condensed Milk Company was complete, and new patrons were received.  A machine for making the lock seams in the cans was placed in position at the Condensery. Once it was in operation, the old method of side seaming with solder was discontinued. Work also began in 1910 on an addition which was used for storing ice. The building, which was delayed because of the non-arrival of some irons and then by the laying-off of the brick layers, was 75 feet long and 48 feet wide, two stories. There was a space of some 15 feet between the two building, which were (still are) adjacent to each other which. Along with a fire wall, this was required by the insurance company. When the annex to the Condensery was completed, the building formerly used for storage was remodeled into a house for employees, which still stands.

An interesting article in the Waterville Times in December, 1910, stated that "there has been more than the ordinary amount of excitement in and about the condensery." Anonymous letters were received by two of the condensery employees.  The article did not mention what the letters contained, but apparently efforts were made to find out who wrote the letters and why. Also at the same time, an employee lost the envelope containing his week's wages. And the article goes on to add that "some of the milk producers are becoming careless and are late." The article cited one farmer who left his can of milk on the receiving platform on a Sunday which subsequently froze.

The Condensery was an important enterprise in those times, and the above article indicates that whatever happened there was of no small interest to the village and surrounding counties. The Condensery was receiving 50,000 pounds of milk daily and the monthly payroll to the farmers was $22,000 - a princely sum in 1910. They received $2.00 per hundred for their milk then. Consequently, the Condensery was a source of great pride.

In the mornings, the milk trucks came rolling in by the hundreds from the hills on either side. Walter J. Mapes was the superintendent then, and he lived across the street in the big stucco house. The house was heated from steam generated by the boilers at the Condensery through an insulated pipe under the road into the cellar. When the pipe broke, it was decided not to replace it, and a furnace was installed. F.L. Nelson was the bookkeeper. There were over 200 patrons of the Condensery.

The success and continued operation of the milk plant, however, had some drawbacks, among them smoke from the factory chimney, which generated many complaints. However, Mapes, accompanied by Mr. Gibbie from the St. Johnsville plant, inspected and purchased several appliances in Buffalo and Rochester which could be attached to each boiler, thereby reducing the smoke.

Many refused to join the Dairyman's League out of respect for the Condensery, which always treated their customers fairly.  The League officials worked hard to arrive at some plan satisfactory to both the League and the Condensery, and to keep fluid milk being shipped to New York. Some liked the plan, and others were not so satisfied. That was unsettling, because the Condensery was the biggest industry in Deansboro in terms of payout at that time, and was a source of great wealth to the farmer. 

No one needed to worry that the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company would go out of business; it grew so that by 1918 it was reaching out for more milk, and the plant was becoming so large it was necessary to employ a blacksmith - Don Williams. The railroads were booming along with the Condensery. Car loads of cans, tons of sugar, and soft coal were brought in by train.

But by February 1920, the Condensery was having a hard time finding enough sugar for their product. There was a blockade in Albany with the result two carloads were held up. Some sugar was delivered from Frankfort, brought to Clinton by trolley and then delivered to Deansboro, but that was only a stop-gap measure. Concerns were that if the plant could not secure enough sugar it would close, although every effort was made so that would not happen.

By spring, however, the Condensery was closed. The farmers were trying to find some way to dispose of their milk. Some, like the Eisenhuts on East Hill, separated their own milk; others took their milk to nearby  milk stations or creameries; some even sold their cows. Deansboro, it was reported, was quiet in the mornings for the first time in many years - not a single milk wagon could be seen.
The milk situation remained in an uncertain state until April, 1921 when the Condensery resumed operations. By the end of the month, it was receiving 30,000 pounds of milk daily. The canning of the milk continued, requiring more help - good news to a lot of people - and the hustle and bustle returned.

Ralph Moore was the superintendent then, and he oversaw a great increase in the production of condensed milk. To understand how the product was manufactured, one must start with the knowledge that the condensed milk  produced was not the sweet, sticky product used today; it was more like evaporated milk, only thicker.

The boilers ran all the time at the Condensery. The coal came in a railroad car, and a conveyer belt with buckets would transfer the coal too the hopper. Milk was weighed and recorded, and poured into a vat, where it was heated. Once the milk cooled, it was pumped into large holding tanks, ready to be canned. That was where the ice house came in. Before refrigeration, cakes of ice were used to keep the milk cool. Milk was received from all over, and the Condensery was a busy place.

However, fortunes rise and fall, and the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company was not immune to this. In March, 1933, notice was given to the patrons that the plant, Deansboro's only remaining industry other than farming, would be closed. It was short notice, and the news which circulated that the plant would remain open until at least July was taken with something of a grain of salt. Again, the question arose: what to do about the milk?  At that time, no word was received about the future of the plant.

The Hinmans to the rescue! In 1933, the Condensery was purchased by Claude and Grove Hinman and was called Hinman Farm Products. At first, they sold fluid milk, as well as manufacturing dry milk powder. In addition,  the company sold eggs, fruits, grain, hay, straw, poultry, meats, feed and fertilizer, and made cheese and buttermilk.
Hinman Farm Products

After a while, the Hinmans abandoned, for the most part, the dry powder and shipped the large stainless steel bulk tanks to New York City. For a long time - into the 1970s - the plant shipped 40-pound cans, longer than any other milk concern. The powder milk machine was used when there was a surplus of milk, for things such as pet food and livestock food enrichment.

In July 1933, a fire of unknown origin destroyed three buildings: a shop, which had recently been built; a garage; and an ice house. The loss amounted to about $3,000. Because of the cement wall which had been installed in 1910, firefighters were able to save the main part of the plant from the blaze, which is still standing. Some trucks which had been stored at the plant were hauled out by the firemen and were able to be restored. The Hinmans started right away to rebuild.

Hinman Farm Products continued to be beneficial to the hamlet of Deansboro and its inhabitants for many years. Through the firm, farmers were kept up-to-date on the latest developments and information regarding better production and sanitation. The Hinmans also established a dealership for tractors and farm implements at that location.

Jack Fennimore was superintendent of the plant from about 1940 to 1955, and the Charles Williams, who had been milk tester, took  over that position.  He arranged for a milk can washer machine to be installed in the receiving room of the site in 1947.

The operation went something like this: the farmer would place his cans on the conveyor belt going into the building. The lid would be taken off and if the smell was right, the lid would be put loosely on the can and sent to the tester, who inserted a special piece of paper to get a sample of the milk. After further testing,  the sample was placed in a rack under the farmer's name, and the can was emptied into a vat of milk before going  into a holding tank. That milk was rapidly circulated through pipes and into a cooler for transport to New York City.

Meanwhile, after the can had been emptied of its milk, it was drawn into the new washer. Successive stream jets - boiling hot jets, then cold rinses - went into the can and the lid. At the end, the lid was put firmly into place and returned by conveyor belt to the farmer, who loaded it onto his truck.
And the milk that didn't pass the initial "smell test?" The lid was immediately pounded on the can and put on another conveyor belt - the reject line - and likewise returned to the farmer.

After many successful years, Hinman Farm Proucts announced that it was closing in March, 1983. At that time, there were 183 customers and there was much consternation among them. They blamed competition from the large cooperatives for the closing of the plant, and feared they would not get as much money for their milk, as well having to pay for it to be hauled long distances, while losing that personal touch.

Residents of Deansboro and the surrounding area chimed in with words of regret. "It will leave a hole in our economy," Norman Ingersoll, then-supervisor of the Town of Marshall was quoted as saying. Others mourned the fact that the closing of the plant hurt badly, due to the loss of jobs; but also the loss of a thriving industry in the heart of the village. Efforts to persuade the Hinman brothers to keep Hinman Farm Products open failed, and farmers eventually found other outlets for their milk. In 1987, the 72-foot chimney, part of the original factory, was torn down, putting an end to that chapter.

The building exists today. Part of it is occupied by Stuart Lindfield of Lindfield Transmision and Repair, and part serves as headquarters of Final Touch, operated by Rich Bennett. The Hinmans still own the property.

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