Milk Stations

History: During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the initial destination of milk cans from farms was the milk station. In his book,The Care and Handling of Milk, Harold E. Ross described the purpose of the milk station: The chief function of the country milk station is to serve as a place where the milk may be received from the producers, weighed and tested, cooled and shipped to the city in refrigerated cars as part of milk trains. The milk is concentrated at the country plant by a system of auto truck collection, or else the producers haul it directly to the plant. With the country cooling station system, cans of milk are not left exposed on the platform of a shipping point. Milk stations became unnecessary when bulk tanks replaced individual milk cans.

Location: Milk stations were placed along a railroad line in dairying communities, and often became the chief meeting place of a farming community. Very few milk stations remain and those that do are either abandoned or converted to other uses.

Construction Techniques and Elements: Milk stations may be classified as one of four types: 1) those that function as milk receiving, cooling, canning and shipping stations; 2) those with additional equipment for separating the cream and manufacturing cheese from skim milk; 3) those equipped to pasteurize milk and bottle it; and 4) those equipped for manufacturing a variety of milk products.

A plan for a milk station is shown below. Although milk stations are no longer used, buildings some are found adjacent to railroad track in small dairying communities.

Plan of small milk station (Ross 1927)

Dimensions: Typical dimensions ranged from approximately 30 feet by 50 feet to 40 feet by 60 feet.

Dairies and Dairy Houses

History: While many dairy farms sent their milk away to be processed, others, including both estate farms and larger dairy farms, processed some or all of their milk production onsite. Dairies contained facilities to convert milk into milk-based products such as buttermilk, butter, cheese, and ice cream.

Henry Wing, in his book, Milk and its Products (New York: MacMillan 1897), discussed issues that the farmer faced in determining the layout and location of a farm dairy:

As to whether to a moderate sized dairy, where say twenty to forty cows are kept, the dairy should have a building separate from others depends largely upon the way in which the dairy work is carried on. If the dairy is so large that power is required for the churning, or if the cream is raised by a gravity process, it will undoubtedlly be of advantage that the dairy should occupy a separate building, but if the cream is separated by the centrifugala process, and power is not required for churning, then the milk may be separated in the barn adjoining the stable. And only the cream carried to the dairy room proper.

According to agricultural architect Alfred Hopkins, on a farm with a herd of 100 milking cows or more it was preferable to locate the dairy at a distance from the dairy barm amd take the milk to it by trolley cart. However, if the cow barn was self-contained, the dairy could be located next to the cow barn, and even connected to it by a roof. The larger the dairy barn was, the further the dairy should be removed from the quarters of the animals.

To confuse matters, the term "dairy" was also used to refer to smaller buildings used for cool storage of milk rather than for milk processing.Location:Dairies and dairy houses are widespread on many farms and ranches where milk cows are kept throughout the United States.

Construction Techniques and Elements: Smaller dairies are generally of masonry construction and have few openings to preserve the interior coolness. Milk-processing dairies are either or wood-framed or masonry construction, are larger, and typically are divided on the interior into a milk receiving room, a milk room, and a wash room.

Dimensions: Milk cooling rooms may be as small as about eight feet squuare, while farm, ranch, and estate dairies may range from approximately 20 feet wide to 30 feet long or larger.

Dairy, Grant-Kohrs Ranch, Montana.


History: Creameries took two forms, the farm creamery where milk was stored and butter was produced, and the commercial creamery where milk products were produced, often for shipment by rail. As farmers expanded the size of their dairy herds to specialize in milk production, some farmers constructed a creamery. An 1874 American Agriculturalist article described a model creamery:

The building should be of stone, or if of wood it should be built with at least six-inch studs. and be closely boarded with joints broken upon the studs and battened, and the inside wall lathed and plastered. For thirty cows the size required would by 36 by 16 and 10 feet, with 26 feet of it sunk four feet below the ground. In this sunken part the milk room and ice house are placed, the other portion being used for a churning room.` Steps lead from the churning room down to the milk room. The ceiling is plastered and attic is left above to keep the rooms cool....The churning is done by horse power...outside the building....The interior of the churning room...contains a pump, sink and wash bench....There are three ranges of shelves around the milk room, with a table in the center. In the winter this room is kept at a regular temperature of 60 degrees by means of a stove, and in the summer is cooled to the same temperature by an inflow of cold air from the ice house which adjoins it.

Most often creameries were constructed either by cooperatives or farmers or by an independent businessman to serve the farmers of the surrounding area.

In his 1913 publication, Milk and its Products, Henry H. Wing described two general principals that governed the arrangement of creamery buildings:

In the one, the milk is taken in at such an elevation that it may flow by gravity from the weighing can to the receiving var, thence to the tempering vat, thence to the seperator, and finally to the skimmed milk and cream vats. In the other, the milkk is taken in on a level with the work-room floor, and is elevated by pumps....The main advantage of...the "gravity" system is that milk flows by its own weight during the course of manufacturem and no pumps, troublesome to keep clean, are necessary.

Location: Small creameries, producing butter for household use and some sale, were found on many, perhaps most, nineteenth and early twentieth century dairy farms. Cooperative or commercial creameries were most frequently located in transportation hubs in the dairy farm belt.

Construction Techniques and Elements: The floor plan of a typical commercial creamery is shown below. Such buildings were usually one story in height with external loading and unloading platforms with interior spaces devoted to pastuerization and bottling.

Plan of one-story creamery (Ross 1927).

Brotherton Creamery, Wisconsin.

Cheese Factories

History: Some small-scale present-day cheese factories provide a continuation of historic cheese production practices. In some cases, such as Vermont's Cabot Creamery, the cheese factory is owned an operated by a cooperative of farmers from the surrounding countryside. In other cases,an artisan cheese producer owns and operates the factory which purchases its milk from selected farmers in the surrounding countryside.

Location: Cheese factories are scattered throughout the Dairy Belt.

Construction Characteristics: Most small-scale cheese factories are a single story in height, often with an interior layout that results in linear processing with milk received at one end and dcheese shipped at the other. The exact arragement of sspaces depends upon the cheese produced.Plans for a cheese factory are available in the North Dakota State University agricultural buildings plan collection on-line


Wisconsin cheese factory.