Dairy Farming in Watertown

Contributed by Florence T. Crowell

Through the years more than thirty milk-producing farms have operated in Watertown and many of the farmers delivered bottled milk here and in neighboring towns. Most of the farms have been sold and where we once saw cattle grazing in the pastures and farm equipment cutting and bailing hay in the meadows, we now see houses and condominiums.

From the beginning, Watertown was a farming community and each farmer had a few head of cattle. Around 1870, Joseph Munson built a large barn and purchased a number of milking cows. He became the first dairy farmer in town. After milking the cows by hand he put the milk in 40-quart cans, loaded them on to a wagon and took them to J.R.Candee on Candee Hill Road who sold it in Waterbury.

William J. Munson joined his father in the business and soon they were selling an average of 50 cans of milk a day. The bulk of Mr. Munson's estate, some of which was left to the town upon his death, was realized from the sale of milk and cream. At this time the farmers received 3 - 3 ½ cents per quart in winter and 2 - 2 ½ cents per quart in summer.

In 1896 about 1.600 quarts of milk left one point in Watertown every day and the Ball Milk Co. sold about the same amount. Other dairy farmers sold between 100 and 700 quarts. It was estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 quarts of milk were carried to Waterbury daily.

By 1906, Watertown farmers supplied more than 10,000 quarts of milk and large quantities of cream to the people in Waterbury. Much milk was also shipped to other neighboring communities. By this time William Munson had inherited the 400-acre farm on Litchfield Road from his father. He had 6 barns, 90 cows and employed nine men.

At that time, milk was cooled in cans and placed in the aerator through which cool spring water continually ran. Then the milk was put in sterilized bottles and capped. The bottles were placed in a tank of spring water that was filled with chunks of ice. The bottles remained in this tank, about an inch below the surface, until the milk was taken to market. Four hundred tons of ice that was cut from local ponds was needed yearly to accomplish this process.

Only one dairy farm, Young's on Woodbury Road remains in Watertown today. On the modern farms today the cows are milked by machine and the milk goes directly into a holding tank until the refrigerated truck arrives. It is then taken to some distant location to be pasteurized and bottled.

Because I grew up on a small farm, I was interested to find that when we were married in 1946 we could have bottled milk delivered to the door. Arising late one cold Saturday morning I opened the door and found that the three bottles of milk that had been delivered at about 4:30 a.m. had frozen. At that time milk bottles had a small cardboard cap. Instead of breaking the bottles, the liquid had expanded, pushing up the cardboard cap, and each bottle had what looked like a two inch white popsicle on the top.

Today's children will never see a horse-drawn milk wagon, have milk delivered to the door or find a bottle of frozen milk on the doorstep. They can, however, view a collection of milk bottles, and other items, from many of the dairy farms that were seen along the highways and byways in Watertown many years ago. These bottles are on display at the Watertown Historical Society Museum at 22 DeForest Street.