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In the years before the invention of refrigeration, ice was needed to cool and preserve food. Local merchants and farmers usually had their own small ice ponds and ice houses to accommodate their needs. Meat markets and grocery stores along Railroad Street (Front Street), for example, needed ice to preserve meats. Local dairy farmers and dairy plants, like Mutual Milk and Sheffield Farms, had larger ice operations. If a natural pond was not available, a pond would be created to catch rain water or stream water. The pond across from the present Patterson Town Hall was regularly harvested for ice, as were most local ponds.
Large quantities of ice was also needed by Patterson's distant neighbor to the south, New York City. The City looked north for sources of ice, and the clean waters of upstate New York provided the ice. Some of New York City's ice was harvested from the Hudson River. Locally, many of the larger ponds and lakes also had ice harvesting operations that supplied New York City. The same Harlem Railroad that provided the dairy farms with quick access to New York City's markets also provided quick access to the City for the ice operations.
Patterson's dairy farms needed ice to preserve the milk before it could be taken to market. Most farmers maintained their own ice ponds and ice storage houses. During the non-growing months of winter, farmers were less busy, and farm workers and horses were usually idle, providing the labor needed to harvest ice. It was not unusual for the dairy house and ice house to occupy different rooms in the same building for convenience. There were few differences in the operations of the small ice houses as compared to the large, commercial ice houses, except that farmers and merchants did the work by hand rather than use machinery. Ice blocks could be stacked either by manpower or horsepower. Ice tongs or hayfork toggles would be used to grab the ice block, and a rope would be attached to the tongs. The rope would be fed up and over a pulley allowing a horse to lift the block into its storage location. At the end of the summer, any leftover ice could usually be sold elsewhere in the town. It was advantageous for the farmer to remove all ice from the ice house at the end of the summer to allow for cleaning and drying of the ice house prior to the new season. If the ice house adjoined the dairy house, the melting ice runoff would be captured in a drainage channel that lead to a pit or concrete pool in the dairy house. Cans of milk could be safely stored overnight in the pit.
The February 1, 1901 edition of The Putnam County Courier mentions a large ice house at the "ice pond" near Dykeman Station, operated by the American Ice Trust. This may have been a predecessor to the Knickerbocker Ice Co. that operated a large ice house in Patterson along the shores of the Ice Pond in Patterson. The Courier noted that the ice quality in the ice pond during the winter of 1901 was "unusually good and clear", but that its thickness was below average at between six and eleven inches. The American ice house was not filled to capacity, and it was expected that no more ice would be available that season. The storage house still had ten feet of height available to be filled. The paper also noted that the 1901 harvesting season had only yielded one fatality and two minor accidents.
In Patterson, an ice harvesting operation was run by the Knickerbocker Ice Co. of New York City on the shore of the Ice Pond. The Pond's location along the tracks of the Harlem Railroad made it convenient to ship the ice to New York City. The pristine water of the Ice Pond and the Knickerbocker ice business were so important, that the Harlem train engineers were instructed not to stoke the fires in the locomotives until the trains passed the pond, to prevent cinders from coating the water.
The Ice Pond is one of the largest bodies of water in the Great Swamp watershed. It sits between two ridges that rise over 400 feet, and is bordered by the Harlem tracks on the west and the New Haven Maybrook Line tracks on the east. There were at least two ice operations on Ice Pond. An early ice house is noted on the 1867 Beer's map of Patterson. At the turn of the century, the Knickerbocker Ice Co. built a new operation that survived into the 1920s. Ice harvesting businesses generally disappeared in the 1920s as refrigerators replaced ice boxes for food storage. The Knickberbocker ice house in Patterson was dismantled by 1930.
|The 1867 Beer's map show an early ice house on the shores of the Ice Pond, then known as Croton Lake.|
Commercial ice harvesting was a difficult and dangerous way to make a living. In 1900, the average laborer would work from dawn to dusk at the rate of $1.25 per day. A man with a team of horses could earn $3.50 per day. The local farmers in Patterson saw the ice operation as a way to make extra money during the winter months until the spring thaws allowed them to work their farms again. Workers faced many perils, including frostbite, drowning, and bruises, bumps, strained muscles, and broken limbs - or even death - from falls or accidents. A block of ice 18 inches by 24 inches by 12 inches can weigh between 170 and 190 pounds, easily crushing a limb or ribs if it fell onto a laborer. Ice operations employed anyone able bodied, and boys were considered mature enough to be employed as long as they could carry their share of the work.
The first step in the ice harvesting process was the ice itself. The ice had to be thick enough to provide useful blocks of ice, and also be thick enough to support the weight of a crew and a team of horses. A minimum thickness of 8 inches was considered appropriate. Usually only one cutting of ice was possible during a typical winter, but sometimes two were possible. The Knickerbocker operation could produce as much as one million cubic feet of ice with a crew of 200 men. This would fill the ice house with 28,000 tons of ice. Knickerbocker might fill the ice house in just 6 to 10 days, depending on the condition of the ice and the size of the workforce. A variety of laborers were needed, including such colorful titles as spudders, pikers, switchers, hustlers, spacers, floaters, and pushers. Some of the key positions were:
|This U. S. Department of Agriculture advisory stressed the importance of ice to dairy farmers. Among the recommendations are that farmers plan to have 1.5 tons of ice per cow in storage, and that ice ponds be built if no natural body of water is available. Many of Patterson's meat markets, grocery stores, and dairies built ice ponds. This clipping is from the June 20, 1924 edition of the Putnam County Courier.||Ice harvesting was very dangerous work. The January 16, 1931 edition of the Putnam County Courier reported several accidents at the Borden Ice House in Towners.||Ice boxes were still a popular item when this H.H. Bloch & Son ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on July 29, 1927. Bloch's Department Store was located on Front Street in the Patterson Hamlet.||Ice boxes were disappearing in area homes as refrigerators started to become available to homeowners. New York State Electric and Gas first promoted refrigerator use in the 1930s. This ad appeared in the June 14, 1935 edition of the Putnam County Courier.|
The first step in the harvesting process was determining the depth of the ice. Once it was thick enough to be harvested, snow had to be cleared from the surface of the ice. This could be a difficult chore by itself, depending on the depth of the snow and whether horse-drawn equipment could get through it. Afterwards, the ice was scored and grooved in a checkerboard pattern. The grooves were several inches deep and marked the blocks that would be cut from the pond. This process was known as sailing, and was done with coarse-toothed saw that was drawn across the ice by horse, not unlike a farmer's plow. After the grooves were cut, large coarse-toothed crosscut saws with crossbar handles were used to make the final cuts to create the ice floaters or blocks. Once the floaters broke free, they were pulled or pushed towards the ramp to the ice house by long poles that were tipped by a spike and a hook. At Patterson's Ice Pond, a cement-lined channel was built under the Harlem Railroad tracks to allow the ice to be floated close to the Knickerbocker ice house. At the ice house, men would use large ice tongs to pull the ice block to a conveyor that carried the ice into the ice house for storage. Either hay or sawdust from a local sawmill could be used to insulate the ice in the ice house or railroad car. Once the ice house was full, the doors were closed until the ice was needed in the warmer weather. Properly insulated ice would last well into the summer, when it was most needed for food preservation.
The Borden Company operated creameries and condensed milk plants throughout the Hudson Valley, including Towners. These plants were large users of ice. Cream would be separated from the milk for use in certain dairy products, such as butter and cheese. Cream needed to be kept colder than milk year-round, but all dairy products needed to be kept cold in the summer months.
|A postcard view of the Knickerbocker Ice House on the shore of the Ice Pond in Patterson. A sense of the size of the structure can be had by noting its size in contrast to the railroad box car being loaded in the foreground. The Station Agent at the railroad's Towners Station handled the freight bills and records.||A canvas ice bag used for carrying ice. The bag is labeled "Knickerbocker Ice Company".|
Ice houses were often built around the ice blocks as they were stacked higher and higher. The Knickerbocker ice house in Patterson is estimated to have been 300-350 feet long, 200 feet wide, and 56 feet high. The structure had between 5 and 10 rooms, separated by 3 foot thick insulated walls. Ice house walls were typically hollow and packed with straw or sawdust which acted as an insulator. Sawdust was not the best wall insulator because it could rot and settle, leaving uninsulated air pockets in the wall. Sawdust, especially from pitch pine logs, was the preferred insulator around the ice blocks since it could be reused for years if kept dry and clean. Floors were typically earthen to catch the drippings from melting ice, and the Knickerbocker house had a drain system to drain water away from the ice blocks. Ice will melt faster when sitting in standing water, so drainage was very important to keep the ice frozen. Ice blocks were packed close together to preserve the coldness. There were no windows. The Knickerbocker operation was large enough to require the use of a steam engine to power the conveyors that pulled the heavy ice blocks into the upper chambers of the ice house. There was also a brick structure that may have been a dwelling or a stable. The men stayed at a bunk house, which was a long frame building on a side hill a short distance north of the ice house. The bunk house contained a kitchen and even a makeshift jail that could be used to restrain misbehaving laborers (it was a common practice for the men to head for area taverns on payday).
The Knickerbocker ice house was dismantled by the 1930s as refrigeration replaced ice boxes. The other structures were destroyed in a fire that consumed the surrounding forests. Traces of the foundation of the ice house are still visible through the brush. The charred remains of the other buildings can also be seen amidst the brush. The cement stairwell from the railroad tracks to the former bunkhouse is still in place. The Knickerbocker property is currently known as the Ice Pond Preserve, and is owned and maintained as a nature preserve by the Putnam County Land Trust.
Local mills were important in the colonial era, and it wasn't unusual to find mills near each population cluster. Transportation was difficult, and each village or hamlet needed to be self-sufficient. Grain was ground into flour to make food products for consumption by both the human and farm livestock populations. Mills ponds became important recreation areas too, supporting swimming, fishing, and ice skating activities. Other business often located around mills to take advantage of the foot traffic created by the mill, much like an anchor department store creates foot traffic in a shopping mall.
|The 1867 Beers map shows the location of early grist and saw mills in Patterson.|
Patterson mills were small due to the absence of swiftly moving rivers and streams needed to power large mill machinery. Many streams in Patterson are seasonal, increasing the difficulty in finding suitable water sources. Water pressure could be increased, however, to make even Patterson's small streams capable of powering a mill. Flowing water was trapped in a holding pond and stored until it was needed to turn the water wheel that either rotated the millstone or moved the saw blade. The retention pond was built at a higher level than the water wheel, so that once a chute was opened, the water could flow under the force of gravity onto the paddles of the water wheel, thereby turning it. A gear then transferred that motion to the millstone or saw blade. Since the mill would not be in constant use, the stream would be able to refill the retention pond.
The smaller local mills, like those in Patterson, became less important as transportation improved because of the construction of roads and the railroads. Larger, more efficient, centralized, machine-run mills were eventually built. The invention of the steam engine eliminated the need for mills to be located near water sources. Food tastes also changed, as exotic grain products like wheat were brought into the area to replace local flour that was usually made from corn. By the 20th century most small local mills in the United States were abandoned.
William S. Pelletreau's The History of Putnam County (1886) mentions a mill located on "the road running southwesterly from the west end of the street [presumably present day NYS Route 311]...which is the main road to Carmel." This is probably the saw mill indicated on the Beers map near Towners (NYS Route 164). Pelletreau mentions that the mill site and land were probably owned by Malcolm Morrison at the time of the War of Independence, and the area was known as "Morrison's Mills". The stream that fed the mill was known as Mill Brook, and flows into Muddy Brook. Pelletreau reports that ownership of the mill passed to Stephen Hayt towards the end of the 18th century. A small hamlet existed across from the mill property, which included a block house, and an inn owned by Epenetus Crosby. Pelletreau notes that the sign outside the inn read: "Accommodation for Man and Beast". Other buildings included a tannery and a store.
|The Bouton Mill and Dam was demolished to make way for the new Haviland Hollow Road in 1929. The first photo shows the combination gristmill and sawmill on the left. The dam is in the center foreground. The retaining pond can be seen in the center of the photo. The second photo shows another view of the mill and the pond. Another view is seen in the third photo, and the Bouton home is visible in the distance just to the left of the center of the photo. The present Haviland Hollow Road is approximately where the mill building and pond are located. All three photos were taken approximately 1912-17. (Ed Scrivani)||A postcard view of the mill in Towners. The structure still stands on NY Route 311 a short distance from the intersection with NY Route 164. It is currently used as a private residence.|
Steam-powered mills were already is use in Patterson as early as 1900, sometimes built on the sites of existing water-powered mills. The March 2, 1900 edition of The Putnam County Courier reported that the steam mill of William Pepper was shut down due to a lack of soft coal, but that the water-powered mill was running steadily due to a good water supply. Many small saw and grist mills were located in the Patterson village, such as the grist mill of merchant Clause A. Moline or the sawmill of the Pendleton & Townsend Sash and Blind Factory.
A water-powered combination gristmill and sawmill operated for several years east of Brimstone Road on the site of the present Haviland Hollow Road. Construction of the road in 1929 destroyed the dam that supplied water for the mill. Remnants of the dam are still visible today. In the years around 1840, Samuel Haviland owned the Bouton mill stand, and ground rye, buckwheat, and wheat. Later, the Boutons operated the mill, and lived in a home overlooking the mill and dam. Both the gristmill and sawmill operated from the same small frame building. The millstone is thought to have been manufactured in France and shipped to Patterson. As was typical with small mills, the dam created a pond whose water supplied the pressure that turned the wooden paddle wheel that provided motion to the millstone or saw blade. Logs for the sawmill came from Birch Hill and the surrounding area.
The old Ludington carding mill was located in West Patterson, and was converted into a private residence in July, 1939. The mill had been used to separate fibers prior to spinning yarn or wool.
Most Patterson residents are familiar with the quarry operation in the Patterson Hamlet, off NYS Route 311. Limestone has always been an important part of Patterson's history. In 1849, William J. Blake's The History of Putnam County had already noted the rich limestone deposits extending south from Pawling into Patterson "where it was exposed to view".
|Remains of a mining operation in Patterson can still be seen. These rock blocks are visible
along the entrance road of the Patterson Environmental Park in the Hamlet. Blocks from this quarry were
used in the foundations of many Patterson homes and businesses. The road is appropriately named Marble Quarry Road.
The first photo shows blocks of cut rock that were discarded by the quarry. The second photo shows the remains of the quarry, now filled with water. The third photo shows the remains of a narrow-gauge cable railway that was used to haul the blocks of rock. (Martin Brech)
Blake noted the existence of a quarry 2.5 miles south of the hamlet, where limestone was quarried to make lime. He reported that 60 cords of wood were needed to fuel a kiln that would produce 2,000 bushels of lime at a price of 50 cents per bushel. The stone was said to also be well suited for building purposes, and is described as "granular, strongly coherent, and in color varies from bluish to white". Blake noted that the rock was not suited for marble because of the difficulty of sawing it. A second quarry is mentioned, located within a mile of the Hamlet.
Marble was also quarried in Patterson. An 1893 New York Central Railroad publication entitled Health and Pleasure noted a high quality marble deposit located just north of the Hamlet. The article describes it:
A quarry has recently been discovered just back of the village, which yields a very fine quality of colored marble, resembling closely in its markings and general appearance Mexican onyx. Experts pronounce it the only deposit of the kind in the United States, and it is expected that it will very largely supply the place of fine foreign marbles in interior decorations, etc. The discovery was made by the merest accident a little over a year ago, by a party of prospectors, who were endeavoring to locate a white marble quarry. A company has been incorporated under the title of the Buch-Allen Marble Company, and the work is being pushed with energy.
The Beech Island Marble Company opened for business in 1891 under the ownership of Ezra Hayt. In 1879, Hayt had been Commissioner for Indian Affairs. A March 16, 1894 a one-paragraph article in the New York Times reported that a "heavy judgment" of $16,247 had been docketed against Ezra A. Hayt, of 24 East 42nd Street, New York City and Patterson, Putnam County, New York. His assets in 1894 included, among other things, the Beech Island Marble Company. At one time he was reputed to be worth over $500,000, a large sum of money in those days. It appears the quarry did not remain in business after 1894.Hayt had previously been president of the International Trust Co. of New Jersey and the United States Ice and Refrigerating Co., among others, according to the Times.
In April, 1926, the Tuckahoe Marble Company purchased 70 acres of the old Stahl farm from the present owner, Clarence Hudson. The land was considered unproductive for agriculture, but it also contained a high quality ledge of limestone. Tuckahoe Marble wanted the limestone for use in its plant in Tuckahoe, NY. Hudson retained his home and a few acres of land for cultivation. Tuckahoe Marble also purchased the American House from Elbert C. Crosby. The American House was a boarding house located on the site of the present Patterson Town Hall on NYS Route 311 at Front Street. The company planned to house some of its employees in the American House, and expected its mining operation would bring 20-30 families into Patterson by the end of the year.
|A quarry has operated in the Patterson Hamlet for decades. Named Patterson Quarries in the early 20th century, it became Putnam Quarries in 1935 and Compton Mines in 1936. The first ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on August 23, 1935. The second ad appeared in the April 3, 1936 edition. In the spring of 1936, Compton mines was able to renegotiate freight rates with The New York Central Railroad, resulting in a 60% reduction in freight expenses. The rate reduction was significant in the company's effort to compete with the quarries located along the Hudson River, which could ship stone products cheaply by water. As a result, Compton Mines saw a substantial increase in sales, and capacity was increased to 2000 tons of crushed stone daily. In March, 1936, the company announced that it would employ between 50 and 100 men at the quarry, which was significant to Patterson's economic recovery from the Great Depression.|
Patterson marble is said to have been used in the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City, which was completed in 1931.
The Kessman gravel pit on Cornwall Hill Road became the subject of a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing in July, 1964. The Kessmans purchased the property from the Rev. Horace E. Hillery in 1954. Hillery and Mrs. Clarence Knowles delivered a petition to the Zoning Board that was signed by neighbors of the gravel pit. The petition claimed that the pit was noisy and spewed dust throughout the area. Hillery claimed he sold the land to the Kessmans, assuming it would be used for farming, since the Kessmans were farmers. The hearing began in the Town Clerk's office on Main Street (NYS Route 311), but was moved to the Town Hall when 140 people arrived for the meeting. Another petition was given to the Board, signed by Patterson residents who did not have any issues with the gravel pit. Patterson Building Inspector Corinna stated that he had never observed any violations of Town code at the pit. After the hearing was closed, the Zoning Board deliberating for five minutes and unanimously voted to approve the continued operation of the Kessman gravel pit. The Board cited the Town's need for the sand and gravel produced by the Kessman quarry, and stated that the operation provided needed jobs to residents of the community. The Board urged opposing factions to compromise in finding a solution to their problems with the pit. The Kessmans were also warned to stay within the approved bounds of the quarry.
Continuing controversy over the operation of the pit led the Town to use zoning regulations to limit the operation of the gravel pit. The Town argued that the business needed to conform to current zoning regulations, and that it was operating in an area currently zoned for residential use. The matter went to court, and, in November, 1969, County Supreme Court Judge George M. Fanelli dismissed the Town's complaint. Fanelli ruled that the Kessmans had a legal, pre-existing, non-conforming use of the property, and the Kessmans were free to continue the business.
As farms grew in size as more land was cleared for farming, it became possible for the colonial farmers to export some of their surplus crops. Wheat was a common export crop, perhaps because it was frequently used as an ingredient in the making of whiskey. But wheat production in our area eventually declined, as did agriculture in general, as the European settlers introduced European insect pests and plant diseases into the defenseless environment of the "new world". The Hessian fly, inadvertently brought into North America from Europe, destroyed much of the wheat crop. Soil conservation and soil fertilizers, necessary in modern agriculture, were unknown concepts and the fertility of the soil decreased. With conditions becoming more hostile for farming, many early farmers simply headed west into the expanding America, where they created new farms.
|A horse drawn hay wagon, once a common site at the turn of the 20th century, is seen in this 1913 postcard.||An aerial view of a Patterson farm in an undated postcard. Much of Patterson retained its rural charm well into the late 20th century.||The "Blue Ribbon" Electric Milker - that every farmer can afford to buy. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on May 3, 1929.|
The fields left behind by these farmers became naturalized, and became covered with grasses and white clover. Eventually, timothy, redtop, and red clover became part of the mix. Land owners soon discovered that this mix was perfect for feeding the growing numbers of horses that were part of the region's sprawling population. Thus the hay farming industry was born. Farmers found that hay could be easily be exported to New York City via the railroads, and there was more than enough surplus stock that could be harvested and stored for winter feeding of livestock.
Hay farming gave rise to dairy farming. The many hills, slopes, wetlands, and rocky conditions of the Patterson area made agriculture difficult, but were no problem for cows, sheep, and goats. Dairy farming grew to become the major form of farming in Patterson, as well as most of New York State and nearby New England.
Early 19th century farmers typically kept dairy cows on their land to produce milk for their families. But milk was highly perishable and could not be stored. Surplus milk was made into cheese and butter, which could be stored for longer periods than milk. Surplus cheese and butter was often sold to neighbors, and this was the start of the dairy industry. Cheese and butter were first made by the farmers' families, and it was a time consuming process. Things changed with the coming of the railroads, which opened New York City's markets to the farmers in the Patterson area. Farmers increased the sizes of their herds to supply the demands of the large, hungry population of New York City. The Harlem Railroad, which became the Harlem Division of the New York Central Railroad, provided express trains to collect the milk and transport it to the City. These trains were given the highest priority by the Central, even higher than passenger trains. The process was simple: farmers would collect fresh milk into large urns or barrels, and would cart them to the nearest railroad station. Local entrepreneurs sometimes did the work for the farmers, such as John O'Hara of Patterson, who, in September, 1902, bought the milk route of John Coleman Nichols, and carried about 35 cans of milk. The train would then stop to collect the urns and speed them to New York. The trains would return later in the day to drop off the empty urns and barrels, which would be picked up by the farmer. These trains eventually became known as the "Rutlands Milks" because the milk collection trips started in Rutland, Vermont.
|Le Roy plows were sold through C. A. Moline, Railroad Avenue (Front Street), in Patterson. This ad appeared in the June 8, 1906 edition of the Putnam County Courier.||Another view of a Patterson farm as seen in an undated postcard.||A mid-1980s aerial view of rural Patterson, looking southeast past NYS Route 311.|
By the 1850s, local farmers conceded the general agriculture industry to the farms in the Midwest. Those western farms had fertile, flat land more suitable for agriculture than the rocky, hilly, and wet topography of the Hudson Valley. The continuing reach of the railroads allowed the western farms to easily sell their produce in the east. Local farmers in the Patterson region responded by concentrating on dairy products, since those products were perishable and had to be produced close to their markets. In the days before refrigeration, local farmers did not need to be concerned about competition from distant farms. Additional acreage was cleared to increase the sizes of farms. New farming techniques allowed production to be increased. By 1855, farms in the Putnam County area were supplying at least 10% of New York City's milk supply. Mass production of butter and cheese became necessary to meet demand, and several creameries were established in the region. Bordens owned several creameries in the Harlem Valley, located along the tracks of the Harlem Division. The best known Bordens operation was located in the Village of Brewster along the East Branch of the Croton River, along the road now known as NYS Route 6. Small remnants of this plant remain today. Borden's also operated a plant in the Towners section of Patterson, located near the New York Central Towners Station, near the intersection of NYS Route 164 and Bullet Hole Road. This Bordens creamery and others became critical producers of condensed milk for the Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War. Milk was an important food source, but would spoil quickly in the years before the invention of refrigeration. Bordens' founder, Gail Borden, invented the condensing process that was patented in 1856. The condensing process allowed the milk to be reduced in volume by boiling the water content from the milk, and packaged into cans, which could then be safely shipped to the soldiers.
|The O.H. Cheney Guernsey cows set a dairy production record, as reported in the February 9, 1934 edition of the Putnam County Courier.||A farm auction taking place at DeForest Corners, near the Putnam Lake section of Patterson. DeForest Corners was approximately the area of the present Green Chimneys School. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on September 7, 1934.||A farm auction taking place at the Penny Farm on NYS Rt. 22, near NYS Route 311. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on March 6, 1936.||A farm auction taking place at the Fanny Ludington Farm in West Patterson. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on August 18, 1938.|
In the 19th century, farmers used either oxen or horses to carry their products to market. Oxen could pull heavier loads, especially in heavy snow or mud. They were also cheaper to buy than horses, and two could be purchased for the price of one horse. Horses, however, eventually became more popular than oxen for hauling loads. Teams and equipment typically needed to be replaced every 5-7 years. As the area's population grew, the markets changed from the immediate local area to more regional commercial centers. The railroad opened the New York City markets to Patterson.
Modern day commuters may curse the traffic on NY Route 22, but, starting as early as 1825, this route was often choked with traffic of a different sort: cattle. Large herds of cattle from the surroundng area were driven to New York City through Patterson using a path known as the "Great Way", now known as NYS Route 22. This route was used for many years to get thousands of head of cattle to the New York City markets. Driving was difficult work, but several taverns opened along the Great Way to provide some distraction for the men. The men could also spend the night at one of many drovers' inns along the route. One such inn was the Towners Haviland House, which stood on the southern side of the present NYS Route 22 on the grounds of the former Ernest Mendel Farm, which is now the Watchtower Farm. The inn was a three story farmhouse; it was destroyed by fire in August 1961. A smaller farmhouse was built on the site of the Towners Haviland House. It still stands today. It is the last house on the Watchtower Farm on the southern side of NYS Route 22 heading south, near the red barn.
A creamery was opened in West Patterson in October, 1896, by J. C. Faylen of New York City. Faylen leased the C. H. Judd property for his creamery, which would accept 100 cans of milk per day. In April, 1900, the Mutual Milk and Cream Company was formed and was one of several dairy enterprises to operate in Patterson. Mutual Milk provided great convenience to local dairyman, who could now bring their milk to a local creamery. The company accepted 300 cans of milk daily, which were shipped to New York City in a 50 foot railcar that displayed the company name. Mutual Milk was housed in a 60 foot long factory built by contractor Duncan Segur, and painted by the firm of Robbins and Conklin. John Overfield was superintendent of the plant, and had nine years experience in the dairy business. He was assisted by John Britton, George Britton, Oscar Svenson, Watson Barrett, and Edward Woodin. In September, 1900, Mutual Milk hired John Cruthers to construct an ice pond directly north of the factory building. Ice was necessary to preserve the milk in the warmer months. But Mutual Milk's ice pond also provided entertainment for local Patterson youth who, by December, 1900, had discovered that it also served as a good, makeshift ice skating rink. The February 14, 1908 edition of the Putnam County Courier reported that the icehouse was being stocked with 10 1/2 inch blocks of ice harvested from the pond, no doubt disappointing the skaters.
Mutual Milk was a regional dairy processor which had 35 plants by 1910. In May 1912, the Central Dairy Co. was organized and the assets of Mutual Milk were transferred to the new company. The Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Surrogates' Courts of the State of New York published in 1918 notes that the transfer involved "personal property, fixtures, and the good-will of the wholsesale business of the Mutual Milk and Cream Company in the boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx and of all wholesale routes of said company, excepting certain contracts with some seventy firms named." Under the agreement, Mutual Milk was prohibited from competing with Central Dairy in the wholesale routes for a period of three months in return for a one-time payment of $62,500 from Central Dairy.
The local Mutual Milk plant became a Central Dairy plant and was located in Towners off the present NYS Route 164 in between the tracks of the New York Central and Central New England Railroads.
A New York State Department of Agriculture Report for the year ending September 30, 1915, published in January 1916, listed the following dairy plants operating in Patterson:
S.F.S.D., M.S., Patterson, NY, owned or managed by Sheffield Farms, Slawson, Decker Co., 524 West 57th St., New York CityMutual Milk, obviously, had disappeared from Patterson.
Towners, M.S., Towners, NY, owned or managed by Central Dairy Co., 326 East 103 St., New York City
|A 1915 track map prepared for the New Haven Railroad/Central New England pinpoints the location of the Central Dairy Company plant in Towners. (Kevin McConnell)||A July 1918 legal notice printed in the Harlem Valley Times mentions the Central Dairy Company as a supplier of milk to the Borden Farm Products Company. (Kevin McConnell)||Patterson merchants Akin & Harrison announce new milk prices in the October 1, 1908 edition of the Patterson Weekly News.||The Patterson Farm Service offered "Quality Service at Low Cost". The business operated in the same building that was occupied by Clause A. Moline in the early 20th century. The building was situated along the New York Central tracks across from the C. H. Judd (Brunow) Building. The Patterson Farm Service sold and repaired farm machinery, and sold feed, hardware, and other products. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on April 22, 1948.|
Central Dairy was affiliated with the Borden Co. but the nature of the affiliation is unclear. Newspaper accounts of the early 20th century refer to a Borden plant in Towners. A July 1918 edition of the Harlem Valley Times may clarify the matter. The paper carries a legal notice for the Borden Farm Products Company, Inc. which states that Borden is "engaged in bottling and selling milk, cream, and buttermilk in bottles and boxes" and then describes the various markings and names appearing on the boxes and bottles containing its products. It also states:
"On other of said bottles, 'C' in large block letter, enclosed in a diamond, and or 'Central Dairy Co.'. On other said boxes, 'Central Dairy Co.'. Being the marks on bottles and boxes heretofore purchased by the registrant from the Central Dairy Company.
The size of the Borden Company gave it great power to influence prices. The February 22, 1910 edition of The New York Time carries an article titled, "Borden's Influence on Price of Milk - Mutual Company Officials Admit that Independents Follow Big Concern's Lead". The article stated that the New York Attorney General was investigating the influence of Borden's Milk Company on the price of milk in the New York market. Officials of Mutual Milk and Cream Company were questioned during the investigation. The paper stated:
"In reply to Referee Brown, Mr. Millett [a director of Mutual Milk] admitted that it was very likely true that other dealers waited to see the prices announced by Borden before buying. 'Borden's prices', he said, 'may have influence on prices.'
(Mr. Millett) acknowledged the great influence Borden's has on the price charged the consumers as well as on the price granted to the farmers."
Sheffield Farms Dairy had its atart in 1880 when L. B. Halsey, an attorney, became interested in the dairy business while helping to deliver his widowed mother-in-law's butter. Halsey was married to Ann Maria Sheffield. Halsey depended on the Sheffield herd in Mahwah, New Jersey for the milk which was particularly well suited for the production of butter. He first marketed the butter in New York City part time but in 1880 left his law practice to become a full time dairyman. He learned his trade quickly and soon was teaching other farmers how to improve their herds to improve the quality of their milk. Halsey is credited with inventing a covered wagon that shielded milk from road dust during transport. In 1892 he imported from Germany the first milk pasteurizing machine used in the United States. It was installed at the Sheffield Farmsí plant in Bloomville, New Jersey.
Slawson Brothers entered the dairy business in 1866 and merged with the T.W. Decker & Sons Company and Sheffield Farms in 1902. Thompson W. Decker started his dairy business in 1841 and by 1860 owned a 400 acre farm in North Salem in northern Westchester County, New York. Decker is credited with being the first dairy farmer to ship milk from Westchester County to New York City after convincing the New York Central Railroad to carry his milk. After the merger, Sheffield became the world's largest dairy products company with almost 2000 retail dairy routes and 300 stores, mostly located in New York City. In 1926 the company was purchased by the National Dairy Products Corporation which had only been formed in 1923. National Dairy continued to grow via merger and acquisition, including the Breyer Ice Cream Company, acquired in 1926, and Kraft-Phoenix Cheese Corporation, acquired in 1930. Each acquired company operated independently and continued to use their own brand names. The National Dairy Products Corporation changed its name to Kraftco in 1969 and in 1976 became known as Kraft.
The state of farming in Patterson in the 1920s was summarized in a newspaper interview with real estate agent John V. Alexander. Alexander was a well-known real estate agent in Putnam and Westchester Counties, and had sold several farms, camp sites, and country homes to people both in the region and from New York City. His real estate career began in 1872 in Yonkers, and in approximately 1892 he started his own business in Peekskill, and sold several properties in Western Putnam County. In 1919, he came to eastern Putnam County in search of farm properties and camp sites. Alexander established an office in Towners, using the old mill site, which he remodeled as a real estate office, tea room, and antique shop. In an interview published in the August 25, 1922 edition of The Putnam County Courier, Alexander stated that during World War I high factory wages caused laborers to leave the farm and seek factory jobs. After the war, many factories closed or reduced their activities, and the displaced workers returned to the farm. However, Alexander explained, these workers were demanding the same high wages they received in the factories. Farm owners reluctantly agreed to pay the higher wages because of the need for laborers. The prices of farm products were low, and the overhead of running a farm was high. This, stated Alexander, made farms unattractive to real estate buyers. He also stated that camp sites were popular, but that the supply had been exhausted and farms must now be taken.
Market pricing determined whether a farmer could survive or lose his farm. Price wars were common in the 20th century, and often neighboring farmers were competing with each other to get their milk to market at the best prices. "Pooling" is a pricing scheme still used today in which a price is set for a given quantity of milk. Farmers can sell their milk into this pool, and receive the price set for that pool. In some cases, a farmer may be under contract to supply a certain quantity of milk to the pool, leaving him free to sell surplus milk elsewhere where it will be "non-pooled", or not subject to a pooled pricing scheme but will be priced according to whatever deal the farmer makes with the dairy plant. Large dairy plants like Sheffield Farms in Patterson favored the pooled pricing scheme. The plant had more control over the price, and sought to buy milk at the lowest cost possible, but high enough to attract farmers to them. Many farmers thought that they could obtain better prices by creating an alternative market that they themselves would own in cooperation with other member farmers. The Dairymen's League Cooperative Association was a cooperative venture that was formed by local farmers and used a non-pooled pricing scheme that might get better prices than those offered by the private milk plants. But there was controversy even within the League, as small farmers often complained that they were receiving lower prices than farmers with larger farms. As a result, pricing competition led to a series of "milk wars" not only as the Dairymen's League competed with the private dairy plants like Sheffield and Bordens, but also against each other.
In April, 1922, Patterson was at the center of one such milk war. This war was between "poolers" and "non-poolers". As a result of the April price war, many farmers found themselves hauling their milk to distant plants that were far from their usual destinations. Some plants were accepting pooled milk only, some were accepting non-pooled milk only, and some were accepting both pooled and non-pooled milk. The Borden plants in Towners and Holmes became the destination for pooled milk coming from members of the Dairymen's League, while Sheffield Farms became the main destination for non-pooled milk. Non-pool farmers attempting to deliver their milk to Bordens were either turned away or forced to join the pool. Members of the Dairymen's League refused to deliver any milk to Sheffield, and directed all of it to Bordens. As a result, Bordens accepted an additional 150 cans of milk per day, while the Sheffield Farms plant in Patterson found itself receiving 100 cans less than usual. Patterson became the center for pooled milk. The Arnstein plant in Dykemans and the Shoemaker plant in Carmel continued to receive both pooled and non-pooled milk, and their daily volumes remained the same. To make up its shortage, Sheffield began accepting 35 cans of non-pooled milk from Hopewell Junction, 60 cans from the Ludingtonville area in the town of Kent, and a few cans from Towners. Meanwhile the Borden plant in Towners was also receiving 35 cans of pooled milk from Baldwin Place after their normal destination, the Willowbrook plant, started to refuse pooled milk.
In January, 1923, The Dairymen's League Cooperative recommended its members accept a price decrease due to an increased supply of milk reaching the New York City markets. Milk was now coming into the City from outside the League territory, mainly from counties in lower Pennsylvania. The League maintain a large plant on 19th Street in the City, which processed milk supplied by members of the Cooperative. The League needed to adjust prices to protect the market for New York milk suppliers from out-of-state competitors. These competitors would eventually help to destroy the dairy industry in the Patterson area.
Milk was priced according to grade. Class 1 milk was fluid milk. Class 2 milk was mainly sold as cream and ice cream. Classes 3 and 4 milk was made into canned milk, powdered milk, and various cheeses. The dairy cows in Patterson were typically Jersey, Guernsey, and Holstein. The Jerseys produce milk with the highest butterfat while the Holsteins have the least. Guernsey cows produce a rich, yellow milk. Jersey cows are reddish brown in color; Guernsey cows are brown and white. Holsteins are black and white.
|The Sheffield Milk Plant is the large white building at the left of center of this view of the village of Patterson, taken from Main Street (NYS Route 311). Located across Main Street to the right (not shown in this picture), is the Sheffield "Ice Pond" along the railroad tracks. This pond was purchased by the Patterson Fire Department in 1933. It became - and still is - the main source of water for the Fire Dept.'s pumper trucks.||The Sheffield Milk Plant merged its Patterson plant into its Pawling plant in 1932. This milk bottle cap is from the Pawling plant.|
|Ward V. Tolbert and his wife, Laura, owned the Green Chimneys Farm on Doansburg Road from 1935-1947. The Tolberts raised Jersey cows. This 1940 certificate indicates that Laura Tolbert was a member of the American Jersey Cattle Club. (Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)||The American Jersey Cattle Club issued this certificate of recognition to the Tolberts for their bull, "Lilac Remus Commodore", in recognition of the bull's "meritorious production". The certificate is dated April 16, 1940. (Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)||This 1940s clipping from The New York Times states that the Tolberts received authorization from the American Jersey Cattle Club to use the Jersey Creamline Products trademark. The farm's location is listed as "Brewster" even though the farm is actually located in the town of Patterson. (Dr. Samuel B. "Rollo" Ross)|
A new milk war began in January, 1923, when Sheffield Farms in Patterson, a non-pool operation, announced that it would accept pooled milk - but only in a quantity that it thought it needed for its business. Many farmers had complained that the major milk dealers like Sheffield would not take surplus milk, leaving the farmer with milk that would have to be sold elsewhere. The Dairymen's League Cooperative, on the other hand, would buy the surplus milk from its members, and use it to make cheese, butter, or milk powder, which would leave the price of fluid milk stable. The Poughkeepsie Star reported that pool contracts between the League and its member farmers would expire on February 1, 1923, and that Sheffield was attempting to attract those farmers. If successful, Sheffield would weaken the Dairymen's League and better control prices.
While some form of local dairy farming continued into the late 20th century, the industry faced a steady decline throughout the century. The August 19, 1930 edition of the Putnam County Courier reported that the number of farms in Putnam County declined 62.6% during the 10 year period from 1920 to 1930. The paper reported that there were 290 farms remaining in 1930 compared to 767 in 1920. In comparison, Westchester County showed a loss of 73.4% of its farms with 409 remaining, but Dutchess County only lost 29.7 percent, with 2,190 farms remaining in 1930. The Sheffield Farms Co. operated multiple dairy plants in Putnam and Dutchess Counties. In the early part of the 20th century, Sheffield operated a plant in Patterson that was situated near the intersection of Main Street (NYS Route 311) and Railroad Street (Front Street). In June, 1924, business was good, and Sheffield decided to buy two homes on South Street from Mrs. Paul Heubner to be used to provide homes for its workers. Just eight and a half years later, in December, 1932, the Sheffield Milk Plant in Patterson closed, with the Patterson business transferred to the Sheffield plant in Pawling. The owners cited the cost of doing business in Patterson as the reason for the closure. The plant, according to Sheffield, cost more than three times the cost of a typical Sheffield plant. The plant handled 550 cans of milk 10 years earlier when there were 149 farms in Patterson and vicinity. At the time of the plant closing, only 50 farms remained, and the plant was only handling 60 cans of milk. Other nearby Sheffield plants were located in Colemans Station in Putnam County, and in Amenia and Dover Plains in Dutchess County. Sheffield's Pawling plant was in Hurd's Corners, near the present NYS Route 22. The plant was built in 1921, and the complex included a large icehouse and a dam for a man-made ice pond.
Long before the Danbury Fair Mall was constructed, there actually was an annual Danbury Fair that drew many farmers from the Patterson area who exhibited their livestock and produce. The October 1934 Fair exhibited a new hybrid strain of corn developed by Patterson's Wilbur E. Gerow, owner of the Patterson Nursery Company. Gerow had some success with plant hybrids, including a new form of tree peony, several gladioli, and, at the time of the Fair, was developing a pear hybrid that would be immune from blight. Gerow's corn grew 2-5 ears of corn per stalk, compared to the single ear on normal corn plants.
|A postcard view of the area once known as Penny's Corners in the early to mid-20th century, and was the Zito Farm later in the 20th century. NYS Route 311 can be seen on the extreme right. Front Street can be seen in the distance. For much of the 20th century, portions of Patterson were virtually treeless, as much of the land was used for farming. It was easy to see for a considerable distance without anything to obstruct the view. The Zito farmhouse still stands on NYS Route 311, near NYS Route 22. The farmhouse faces the present A&P Supermarket, and is believed to have been built in approximately 1850. Research completed in 1986 suggests that the house may have been owned by I. Haynes in 1854. A blacksmith shop was located next to the Haynes home. The 1867 Beers Atlas indicated the property was owned by Mrs. H. P. Haynes. In 1986, the owner was listed as Frank Zito. The Zito brothers, Frank and Salvatore, were born in Italy. Salvatore was born on June 24, 1895. He was a Patterson resident for 33 years, and spent many of those years as a farmer. He died on July 13, 1977 at the age of 82. He was buried in Hartsdale, New York.||The last large scale agricultural farm in Patterson was the Kessman Corn Farm, which was located on Cornwall Hill Road. The farm ceased operation in 2002. In these 1999 photos, migrant workers harvest the corn crop. In the first photo, workers collect the corn and load the ears into a wagon. In the second photo, corn is loaded onto a conveyor and then packed into crates for shipment to local markets. (The Putnam County Historian) In addition to the 200 acre Patterson farm, The Kessman family once owned a number of farms totaling 1,000 acres. The Kessmans also owned a controversial gravel pit on Cornwall Hill Road in the 1960s. In the early 1960s, Milton and Beatrice Kessman also operated the Palatine Hotel in Newburgh.||A label or ad for the Kessman Corn Farm, probably dating from the 1980s.|
Most of Patterson's farms in the mid-20th century were small family-owned farms, typically with thirty to forty head of cattle. Many farmers operated their own creameries. Some of the small creameries included the Sunshine Creamery, which was on the Kessman farm property, but not operated by them, and the Maple Wood Creamery, which was located on NYS Route 311, just behind the small strip shopping center located next to the Patterson Presbyterian Church. When the local creameries closed and the special milk trains ceased to operate, local farmers trucked their milk to more distant milk plants, such as in Danbury, Connecticut.
The Dykeman Brothers Dairy Farm was owned by Stuart Dykeman and Mortimer Dykeman, Jr., and was located on NYS Route 311 opposite the present mobile home park. The property is currently being subdivided for residential housing, a fate that that most of Patterson's farms have met. Stuart Dykeman lived on Fair Street in Carmel, near the present George Fischer Middle School. Mortimer Dykeman, Jr. lived on the farm. The Dykemans also rented the Hurbst Farm, which was on NYS Route 292 at the intersection of NYS Route 311, and the old Kelly farm on NYS Route 292 opposite Mooney Hill Road. The Dykemans were surprised to discover that one of their Holstein heifers gave birth to triplet calves in June, 1963. Three black and white calves, two bulls and one heifer, were found by Stuart Dykeman at morning milking time. Although not a rare occurrence, triplets births are not common. The mother gave birth without assistance, and all three calves seemed healthy. The mother had been bred by artificial insemination. The bulls were eventually sold, but the heifer was kept by the Dykemans and used for milking. In 1970, the Dykemans sold the Patterson farm and began farming in Fultonville, New York. The Fultonville farm is still owned by the sons of Mortimer Dykeman, Jr. Stuart Dykeman worked part time on the farm in the 1960s, working full time for the Carmel Central School District as a bus driver.
|A milk bottle from the Dykeman Farm. The face of the bottle reads, "Dykeman's Pure Milk Dairy, Patterson, N.Y.".||Mortimer H. Dykeman, Jr. pictured in the early 1960s. Dykeman was also chairman of the Putnam Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Committee. In the late 1960s, he was also an assessor for the town of Patterson.|
In June, 1965, the Holstein-Friesian Association of America granted exclusive use of the prefix "Mendel" to Albert Mendel & Son, Inc., whose farm was located along NYS Route 22 near the present Watchtower Farm. The designation gave the Mendels the right to use the name for all registered Holsteins bred in their herd. The name "Mendel" was also included in the breed records maintained at the national headquarters of the Holstein-Friesian Association in Brattleboro, Vermont. At the time, 38,000 prefixes were on file for giving distinctive names to home-bred cattle. 1,500 prefixes were reserved for registered Holstein breeders each year. Reservations and prefix names became mandatory under the Association's membership rules in 1965. The prefix was a trade mark that would be used by the breeder in identifying his cattle and their performance in any published information about the herd. Unique prefix names were developed from such things as the farm name or the family name of the breeder, or a unique historical or geographical feature of the farm.
In April, 1970, the farm and feedlot operation of Albert Mendel & Son, Inc. was in the news again. The New York State Dept. of Commerce announced that the Mendel farm would be one of five businesses it would feature in a documentary film it would produce to explain its functions and services to the business community. The film would be shown to business and bankers associations, Chambers of Commerce, and other groups both domestic and international. The film would explain how the Dept. of Commerce promoted trade with industries located in New York State. Edward R. Eckert, director of the Radio-TV and Motion Picture Bureau of the Dept. of Commerce, explained that the film would show how the Mendels selected and tested cattle for overseas shipment, and would follow the cattle as they were transported to steamships for delivery overseas. The Mendel farm was featured at the suggestion of Frank F. Balgobin, International Trade Consultant at the Dept. of Commerce office in White Plains, who worked with the Mendels on other projects. Balgobin thought the Mendel farm to be one of the finest operations in New York State.
In 1970, a Putnam County Fair was held in Patterson on NYS Route 22 just north of NYS Route 311, where a flea market has been held in recent years. The Fair was run by a private organization, and featured many rural and agricultural activities and exhibits that were common in the older County fairs and in the Danbury Fair in Connecticut. The 1971 Fair opened in early July, and attracted 22,000 people the first weekend. Making special appearances were Ronald McDonald, Tippy the Clown, a magician known as "Mr. E", and musical acts Big John and the Western Ramblers and country music performer Kathy Lee. Donna Marie Smalley was crowned Queen of the 1971 Fair. Special events included a 4-H Club horseshow, a rodeo, fireworks, a 4-H Club dog show, a 4-H Club sheep sheering demonstration, a 4-H Club chicken hatchery, and square dancing led by the P.D.Q. Square Dance Club. There was an ox-draw competition, in which prize teams from around the northeast competed to see which could pull a heavy sledge the farthest. The sledge was loaded with cement blocks weighing 8,500 pounds. The following weekend, the contest was replaced by teams of horses pulling a device that could measure their pulling power. There was a glass blowing demonstration, exhibits of farm and yard machinery, handmade items, and a display of camping and recreational vehicles. Area civic and non-profit organizations staffed information booths. The final day of the Fair included lumberjack competitions, in which amateurs and professionals from around the northeast United States and Canada competed in wood chopping and tree felling events. Exhibits included a steer named "Blackjack", said to be the world's largest.
|Jack O'Neill poses with a Black Angus steer to be award by the American Cancer Society at the 1971 Putnam County Fair held in Patterson. O'Neill was the manager of the Deacon Smith Hill Farm in Patterson, which was owned by Orator E. Woodward. The photo appeared in the July 14, 1971 edition of the Putnam County Courier.||The 1974 Putnam County Fair was announced in this ad from the July 10, 1974 edition of the Putnam County Courier. The Fair was privately run, and took place in Patterson on NYS Route 22, just north of NYS Route 311.|
A Towners area farm known as the Lazy R Ranch made news in February, 1972, when Donald Droner appeared before the Patterson Zoning Board of Appeals to request a variance for the construction of a private airstrip on land owned by Paul Ridolpho. The airstrip was to be used for a privately owned, single engine plane. The Zoning Board refused to render a decision, and instead referred the request to the New York State Transportation Dept. for an opinion. The airstrip was not built. The Lazy R Ranch was located at NYS Routes 311 and 164.
By 1935, there was a substantial increase in the number of farms in Putnam County, up to 516 from 290 in 1930. The Great Depression may have lead to the increase, but it was short lived. There were several reasons contributing to the decline of farming:
The last commercial dairy farm in Patterson was the Burdick Farm, located along Bullet Hole Road near Ice Pond Road. The farm, which ceased operation in 1984, has been the subject of controversy since the mid-1990s when a large housing subdivision was proposed for the site. Local residents and preservationists have sought to preserve the farm and its historic barn and maintain the farm as open space, but a developer has received approval to build a smaller scale project, and the barn was purchased and removed from the site to be rebuilt out-of-state. In 2008 the nation's troubled economy took its toll on the housing proposal when the developer sold the property. It remains to be seen what will happen to the property.
No dairy farms remain in Patterson today, and only a few small horse and agricultural farms remain.
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