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updated: 6/26/2012 11:58 AM

Dairy industry grows up with Aurora

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  • Aurora Dairy Wagon, circa 1910. The Aurora Dairy Company, located at Lake Street and Benton, was Aurora's earliest commercial dairy.

      Aurora Dairy Wagon, circa 1910. The Aurora Dairy Company, located at Lake Street and Benton, was Aurora's earliest commercial dairy.
    Courtesy of Aurora Historical Society

  • Owner Lyman V. Pike stands in front of his dairy on Smith Street along with the dairy's fleet of horse-drawn wagons and motorized vehicles in July 1938.

      Owner Lyman V. Pike stands in front of his dairy on Smith Street along with the dairy's fleet of horse-drawn wagons and motorized vehicles in July 1938.
    Courtesy of Aurora Historical Society

  • Oatman's Dairy Truck in 1953. By the 1940s, Oatman's had replaced its horse-drawn wagons with motorized trucks.

      Oatman's Dairy Truck in 1953. By the 1940s, Oatman's had replaced its horse-drawn wagons with motorized trucks.
    Courtesy of Aurora Historical Society

 
By John Jaros
Aurora Historical Society

In the pioneer era, no dairies were necessary since almost every household had a milk cow providing all the milk the family needed.

Later, milk was available from many of the local farmers or homes in town.

Aurora's first major commercial dairy business was actually a creamery -- an operation that took milk and cream and processed it into butter and cheese for sale. The Aurora Creamery opened in 1882 in a new, modern brick building at the corner of Lake and Benton.

In its first five years, the Aurora Creamery purchased 10 million pounds of milk and 8,000 inches of cream from area farmers. From that, the creamery produced 650,000 pounds of butter and 525 pounds of cheese.

After about 20 years of operation, the Aurora Creamery became the Palace Car Creamery Company, which then became the Aurora Dairy Company in about 1905 -- Aurora's first full-service dairy. A 1914 ad touted the business as "dealers in Clarified and pasteurized Milk and Cream; Retailers of Butter."

Dairies were not yet in the ice cream business -- Aurora had a few independent ice cream manufacturers at the time. It would not be until the early 1940s, shortly before its closure, that the Aurora Dairy Company had a "dairy bar," where patrons might enjoy sundaes, sodas, malteds and cones.

From the 1900s to the 1920s, many small farms and households advertised themselves as dairies or milk dealers. One of these was L.V. Pike, a true pioneer in the milk business. For years, he ran a milk business from his home on Fourth Street, just south of Downer. By the 1910s, this was a full-fledged dairy business, dealing in milk, cream, butter and buttermilk, delivered to the home.

In 1920, Pike built a new, modern dairy facility. This immediately expanded his production and delivery of milk products. Later, ice cream became a staple of the dairy. The family operated this plant on Smith and Second until 1965.

On the opposite side of town, older residents may recall the cement milk bottles atop fence posts on west Galena, marking the approach to Fitchome Farms.

This dairy farm was the brainchild of William Fitch, the founder of Richards-Wilcox Manufacturing Company. Fitch purchased a 360-acre farm just west of Aurora exclusively for the raising of purebred Holstein cattle. Dedicated to the most scientific care, feeding and breeding, Fitch established a prizewinning herd.

He installed a modern milking and bottling plant, and in 1915 officially started deliveries fresh from the farm.

By the late 1930s, the dairy included an ice cream shop and a glass-enclosed milking parlor where patrons might enjoy a sundae while watching freshly cleaned cows being milked by machine. When Fitch died in 1947, the dairy business was purchased by Oatman Brothers.

Oatman's had begun in Dundee as a producer of condensed milk. They expanded to Aurora in 1918 by acquiring the Fred Young Condensed Milk plant on Middle Avenue, while also acquiring a condensery in Sandwich the following year.

After supplying the ice cream trade for a few years, Oatman's officially began retail milk delivery in 1923, and by 1929 it had 15 delivery routes around town when dairies still delivered milk by horse-drawn wagon.

In February 1942, they opened a new, modern plant at 735 Prairie, complete with an ice cream shop. The popular Valley Maid Ice Cream was an Oatman product until it later spun off as a separate business.

While Oatman's closed its Sandwich operations in 1961, the Aurora plant prospered. In 1964, the dairy reported a daily receipt of 115,000 pounds of milk from 123 farmers. The dairy ceased operations in 1971 when acquired by Chicago's Roney Ice Cream Company, which moved its ice cream manufacturing operations to Aurora.

In 1986, the plant became the Roney-Oatman division of Oberweis, but has been empty in recent years.

Oberweis dairy officially began in 1927, when, after selling raw milk from their own farm for years, the family acquired the old Big Woods Dairy. At that time, they began the manufacture, sale and delivery of pasteurized milk and milk products.

The dairy was located at Molitor and Church roads until 1951, when Oberweis opened a new, modern dairy operation on North Lake Street. The dairy, with its ice cream shop, was a fixture in the community until a new dairy and shop opened on Ice Cream Lane in North Aurora in 1996.

Today, Oberweis' award-winning dairy products are available by home delivery and at their many ice cream/dairy shops throughout the Midwest.

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