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posted: 5/11/2010 12:01 AM

Cuneo museum once a top dairy farm

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  • Hawthorn Mellody Farms

    Hawthorn Mellody Farms

 
By Diana Dretske

One of the best known dairies in the Midwest was Hawthorn Mellody in Libertyville, now the site of the Cuneo Museum & Gardens.

In 1937, John Cuneo, Sr. (1884-1977), owner of the Chicago-based Cuneo Press, purchased Hawthorn Farms, the former estate of utilities magnate Samuel Insull. Cuneo used his considerable resources to turn the land on his 1,200-acre estate into a model farm.

Not one to do anything small, Cuneo's Hawthorn Mellody Farms featured the latest technology in dairy production, using stainless steel containers and automated milking machines to keep everything sterilized for purity.

By 1940, the dairy had a fleet of trucks delivering milk as far south as Evanston. In 1945, Cuneo took control of the National Tea Company chain, which played a major part in distributing the dairy's products throughout the region.

The farm was soon opened to visitors, providing them with tours and milk tastings. There was a store on-site to buy the farm's products, such as whipped cream, milk and ice cream. Cuneo especially promoted tours for children, in particular those from Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago, who had never seen farm animals. Beginning in 1948, children's tours were a key to the farm's success.

In 1951, Cuneo expanded the farm by adding a children's zoo. Typical for the time, the zoo's exhibits were fenced-off enclosures and not natural habitats. Zookeepers were hired for the great range of local and exotic species, which included lions, elephants, llamas, chimpanzees, parrots, turkeys and even squirrels.

Celebrities such as Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Peggy Lee and Studs Terkel appeared in local newspaper and magazine ads for the farm's milk, happy to be associated with a wholesome product. At the time, the idea of star endorsements was relatively new, and consequently it was inexpensive to have a celebrity pose with your product.

Probably the biggest event held at Hawthorn Mellody Farms was the opening of a frontier town known as H-M Bar 20 Ranch in 1955. The opening featured film and television star, Hopalong Cassidy played by William Boyd (1895-1972). Two-lane Milwaukee Avenue had a traffic jam miles long as 20,000 fans flocked to Libertyville to see the popular cowboy star. The new frontier town included a country store, pony express office, dance hall, jail and wooden sidewalks.

In 1967, Cuneo sold Hawthorn Mellody Dairy to National Industries Inc. of Louisville, Ky. The farm park continued to operate until 1970.