A group of people assembled for the dedication of a historic marker to commemorate a historic creamery got more than a bowl of ice cream and a slice of cake to remember the occasion. Thanks to some dedicated residents who were determined to uncover the forgotten history of a local creamery, the group also learned some interesting historical facts about the dairy industry.
Tom Clowney, long time dairy farmer in Gettysburg, PA, had heard there was a creamery very close to his dairy farm. But some old-timers told him there was no creamery, that what he had heard about was probably a milk receiving station where farmers brought milk for shipment to Baltimore. Not one to be deterred, Clowney continued to research the creamery and was referred to Gettysburg House Historian Kendra Debany, whose research proved there was indeed a creamery at the location.
Debany’s research revealed that Samuel Swartz, a creamery proprietor from York County, came up with the idea to build the Barlow Creamery just a few miles outside of Gettysburg. The 10,000 square feet of land for the creamery was purchased for $25 and the building was constructed in 1898. The Barlow Creamery became known for making ice cream from milk obtained from local dairy farms.
Over the years, the creamery was operated by various proprietors and underwent several name changes. In the late 1920s, business slowed and the creamery eventually went out of business. The building was converted to a store, first known as the Barlow Store. The store closed in 1953, changed ownership and reopened in 1956 as the Barlow Grocery Store and Service Station. After several more management changes, the creamery-turned-store closed for good in 1974 and the building was demolished.
Elsie Morey, president of Cumberland Township Historical Society, explained more about the creamery and talked about historic dairy innovations which continue to benefit dairy farmers and consumers today.
“The creamery was founded in 1898, a time when farmers brought cream and milk to creameries in cans,” said Morey. “In the early days, the farmers and the creameries watched for the cream to rise to the surface for skimming. Were the farmers really paid the value of the cream and skim?”
Morey discussed several early inventions that made the creamery possible. About 30 years prior to the establishment of the Barlow Creamery, Louis Pastuer discovered that mild heating of milk killed the microorganisms which caused milk to spoil and potentially cause illness. In 1853, Gail Borden patented the first milk condenser, which allowed the preservation of fluid milk without refrigeration.
“I grew up in the Boston area, where the Borden Milk Company had a large presence,” said Morey. “The Borden mascot, Elsie the Cow, was often taken to the Boston Commons where she could graze and be milked. The public was invited to come and visit Elsie to see her being milked and I was one of the many children who did that. By 1940, Elsie the Borden Cow was more recognized than President Harry Truman.”
Another dairy pioneer, Carl Gustaf De Laval, invented the first continuous flow cream separator, which could skim hundreds of gallons of cream per hour. This innovation increased the cream yield from milk. “This was important because the market for butter was large,” said Morey. “Getting higher yields meant big money.”
In 1890, Stephen Babcock figured out how to determine the solid content of milk. This test allowed farmers to sell milk to a creamery, butter or cheese manufacturer at the fairest possible price. Babcock’s fast test gave the results of percent butterfat in milk, which differed between breeds. The Babcock test was scheduled for public debut at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and when Holstein owners learned the test was going to be used, they withdrew their cows. “However, over the years, the Holstein Association led this country’s standardization as they were the first to incorporate this new breed improvement,” said Morey. “The dairy industry grew over the years, in part due to the Babcock test, which in turn helped the milk processing industry to grow.”
Clowney recalled that at one time, it was common for rural families to keep a single cow for milk and meat, but after the Civil War, cow numbers on farms rose to an average of four to six cows per herd. Farmers brought cans of milk to the creamery where it was cooled to 55 degrees by water from a spring — quite a contrast to today’s stainless steel storage tanks and cooling to 38 degrees.
But farmers with “larger” herds needed a means by which to market excess milk, and that’s how creameries came about. “Creameries were the first processors of dairy products,” said Clowney. “Before, there was no way to get rid of milk except sell it to a neighbor or sell it door-to-door. Selling milk is a far cry from that today.”
Alternate Pennsylvania State Dairy Princess Katie Anderson, of Huntingdon County, talked about how she became involved in the dairy industry and is now a proud fifth generation member of her family’s farm. “The traditions and the history of our industry are so important,” she said. “The generation before me paved the way to our success. They worked out the kinks and the problems so we have a better understanding of what we’re getting into and what we need to do to improve in the future. My great-grandfather would be in his 90s, and would be so proud of what his farm has become.”
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said it was appropriate to rediscover the Barlow Creamery during June as Dairy Month. “The Barlow Creamery predated rural electric, transportation infrastructure and refrigeration,” he said. “It’s a story of the people — the story of the families that have entered into the business of dairy and are very proud of it. Any time we unveil a marker, it’s a reminder of both what has been important to us as a Commonwealth and as a community, but it’s also an important reminder of the future and that future is shaped by a lot of people who keep track of that history to remember and capture that history. This marker will remind us in perpetuity of both the dairy industry and the Barlow Creamery, and the families here in Adams County.”