“March 1st will mark the beginning of a new era in the history of the dairy industry of the West Side.” The Tracy Press announced.
No, not now. How about a century ago? Yes, it was on March 1, 1923, that the General Milk Co. started processing milk produced by the hundreds of dairies that dotted much of the rural landscape, mostly north and west of town, in the Tracy area.
Construction of the plant was financed by the sale of stock to local investors, who generated $150,000, of which $60,000 was used for property acquisition and construction. At the outset, condensed milk was a prime product coming out of the creamery located at East 11th and Orient (now MacArthur) streets.
Henry Hull, who in 1923 was the editor and publisher of the Press, was enthusiastic about the opening of the milk-processing plant known officially as the General Milk Co.
He wrote: “For the first time, dairymen of Tracy and surrounding districts are assured of an adequate market at home for their product and afforded the facilities of a modern and well-equipped milk plant.”
Growth of the number of dairies in the Tracy area was fueled by the development of irrigation from 1912 into the 1920s and the arrival of a number of Portuguese dairy families.
Construction of the plant was started in November 1922 and moved ahead rapidly, Henry noted. The first phase was completed in a record 100 days and had a capacity of 100,000 pounds of milk daily. It included general offices and laboratory, receiving, weighing and can-washing and a separate building for the production of casein (milk and cheese protein) from skimmed milk.
Ample space was being provided for future expansion, Hull noted and the long-term future of the milk-processing plant seemed assured. As the years rolled by, additional products, including high-grade cream, powdered milk, cottage cheese and ice cream mix were added. The plant’s ownership changed hands several times, and finally it was owned by the H.W. Low Co. of Oakland, which named the plant the Dairy Maid Creamery. the plant’s long-term future seemed assured, but it lasted only 24 years, to 1947.
That was the year Dairy Maid’s Tracy plant was closed and its production moved to a creamery located in Hughson near Modesto.
The reason: No longer were there hundreds of dairies in the Tracy area. Their number dwindled when dairymen begin moving eastward, to Escalon, Ripon and into Stanislaus County following World War II.
Although fewer dairies were then in operation in the Tracy area, dairying continued to have a place in the local agricultural scene as milk was shipped by truck to the Bay Area and some diverted to Leprino Food Co. in Tracy to produce mozzarella cheese and to Sun Valley Creamery.
Finally, the “whole-herd buyout” program of the Department of Agriculture eliminated many of the remaining dairies.
At last count, there are only six dairies in the Tracy area. But a century ago, the opening of General Milk Co., later the Dairy Maid Creamery, gave a real boost to dairy farming —and dairy families — in the Tracy area.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher Emeritus. Can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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