More in Featured
Milk bottle collection stirs memories
Dave Gawtry, curator of the Lufkin Museum, shows people some of his collection of local milk bottles following a presentation on the dairies which once processed milk for the families of this area. (Times photos by Bruce Farrin)
RUMFORD -- Back in the day, when there were numerous daily farms in the River Valley, the milkman and a delivery truck were as a common as the daily mail.
Dave Gawtry, curator of the Lufkin Museum, presented a program on the dairies which once processed milk for the families of this area.
At Wednesday's meeting of the Rumford Historical Society in Rumford Falls Auditorium, Gawtry narrated a slide show of his impressive collection of local dairy bottles, several of which he also brought to display.
Gawtry developed an interest in the dairy business when, as a teenager in Minnesota, he worked for a veterinarian. He started collecting bottles about 20 years ago. "I did it backwards. I started collecting the bottles, then learned about the history. I always try to gather as much information as I possibly can."
He showed a slide of a memo from T.H. Burgess of the Rumford Creamery in 1889 to a foundry in Mechanic Falls. "This was one of the earliest documents we have of any organized dairy business that I could find. The Rumford Dairy Association was organized in 1887.
Gawtry showed a document drawn up in 1894, an agreement among the local farmers for a route contract for picking up milk and cream. It describes the route along Ellis River and both sides of the Androscoggin, which is more interesting for people who knew where all the old farms were located. The document was an indication that the dairy business was becoming more organized.
Gawtry showed slides of various bottles, including F.P. Putnam & Son of River View Farm from the 1910-1920 era; a bottle from Howe's Dairy, which is the only one that had the town Dixfield on it; a bottle from Adam Patrick of Rumford Center. There was a bottle from the Adam Packard Farm on Red Hill from 1915-1925, and then he moved over to the Ellis River area, somewhere in the north Rumford area.
Next was a bottle from Lyman L. Haines of Mexico, whose farm was on Highland Terrace, above where the Mountain Valley Middle School is located. There was a bottle from O.M. Mitchell of Forest View Farm, located on the Roxbury Road in Hale/Mexico.
He showed a slide of a milk bottle from Breau's Dairy. "The truck on the back of the bottle is a 1937 delivery van, so that more or less dates the bottle. Any of these bottles that have a vehicle on them are very collectible and are in demand all across the country."
Breau's also sold more than milk. "When they delivered milk, they'd deliver butter, eggs, bacon, orange juice and apparently even delivered laundry soap.
Gawtry showed bottles from H.P. Hood, which was from Massachusetts. The Turner Center Creamery was a large dairy system that originated in Turner and then Auburn, and then expanded to most of southern Maine. There was a Turner Center Creamery building where the old Puiia Home Center was, a large two-story building.
The Turner Center system merged with H.P. Hood in 1929, and they built a facility in Portland and were one of the bigger regional dairies, and they still are.
Gawtry also showed a variety of milk bottle caps, including from J.A. Cameron farm of South Rumford Road, Thompson Hill Farm in Mexico. He didn't have any bottles from H.O. Virgin, who started delivering milk around 1910 and built a new dairy in 1931.
By 1917, it was recommended that milk be pasteurized due to the chance of tubercolisis but most rural dairy producers did not do this. It was not until larger companies took over these smaller dairies that pasteurization was widespread.
Gawtry showed a baby top chocolate 10-ounce milk bottle from Ferland's Dairy. "It was the only 10-ounce bottle produced by any dairy in the State of Maine. It's in high demand amongst bottle collectors and they're very scarce."
"The baby top bottle was done as a marketing feature that was patented in 1936. It was short-lived because a lot of these people didn't return the bottles. They painted the faces, filled them with sand, put dresses on them and used them for door stops," he noted.
Dairies also produced a lot of advertising calendars over the years. He showed several from Ferland's of Mexico, which had them from the 1930's into the 1970's before they closed. Gawtry also showed an advertisement Ferland's had in 1937 with a photograph of Shirley Temple, apparently sponsoring a movie at The Strand Theatre.
He showed a calendar in 1927 from C.V. Richards, Jr. in Ridlonville. The farm was located on Richards Avenue in the area where the credit union is now located.
Gawtry showed a picture of a Ferland's milk man uniform, which he was able to acquire from a friend in Jay.
Another slide showed a picture of a porch box -- a galvanized box with styrofoam insulation on the inside of it.
"Those were left on either the front or back porch of the house, and the milk man would take the empties out and put the full bottles in from his carrying case. That way, it would hopefully keep them from freezing in the wintertime or spoiling in the summer. If it was really, really cold, there were times when the milk would freeze and expand and go through the top of the bottle and stick out," he said.
Gawtry showed a slide of window cards that were common. "The housewife would put the card in the door window of the house. If she needed extra milk or extra cream, one side was red and the other side was yellow. So the milk man could tell from the street to put another bottle of milk or cream into his carrying case to take into the house."
Showed a slide of wax milk cartons, which were being started in the 1950's, then were pretty much all wax cartons in the 1960's.
After the presentation, everyone gathered for refreshments and talked about the bottle displays he brought with him.
Gawtry said he's found local collectible milk bottles from yard sales, Ebay and flea markets. Over the years, he's gotten known for his collection and family members from local dairies donate bottles and other items to him.
There is also a state convention for milk bottles collectors, held each fall in a grange hall in Benton. Exhibitors swap bottles and there are auctions. National conventions, once held in New York, now take place near Hershey, PA, which is located closer to the dairy belt.