Old Carson Valley Creamery

This mysterious building on Waterloo Lane used to be something. Carson Valley folks have probably driven by it dozens of times, wondering: what’s its story?

Back in the day — 1891, to be precise — this used to be the Carson Valley Creamery. And not just any creamery, mind you; this was a gold-medal-winning local creamery!

What got the whole creamery notion rolling was a series of letters to Carson Valley’s E. Cohn from a man in L.A. And these letters weren’t any ordinary letters; the writer happened to run a creamery in Los Angeles for Lucky Baldwin. (Don’t know who Lucky Baldwin was? I didn’t either. His real name was Elias Jackson Baldwin (born 1828); the “lucky” moniker came from his extraordinarily good luck at wheeling and dealing. Wikipedia calls Baldwin “one of the greatest pioneers” in California business; he built San Francisco’s posh Baldwin Hotel & Theatre, and bought up so much Southern California land that his name still lives on there. Here’s the Wikipedia article on Baldwin, well worth a glance!).

It was something like receiving a letter from Bill Gates. If Bill Gates tells you creameries are a grand business, you have to at least consider it!

A meeting of local farmers was speedily convened at Valhalla Hall in March, 1891, to discuss the idea. C.C. Henningsen explained the relatively simple concept to the group: each dairy farmer would put his own marked milk cans out by the road; a creamery wagon would pick them up and haul them to the creamery; skim milk could be returned to the farmers in their own cans, for a small price. By selling and shipping their butter and cheese collectively, the farmers hoped to reach larger markets and get a better price. H. Springmeyer immediately came out as an advocate for the plan.

Milk wagons looked something like this miniature model. Note that cushy “spring” seat for the driver!

The newspaper was jammed with “Creamery Talk” that whole spring and summer. Before long, a 36 x 86-foot two-story building was being erected on a 10-acre parcel at the southeast corner of William Dangberg’s ranch. Plans for the new building called for a cold storage area, a butter room, and a separator room on the ground floor; and an “ice room” that spanned both floors. Upstairs would be the cheese room, kitchen, dining room and three “chambers.”

In July, 1891, the creamery group signed a five-year contract with Julius Kaupisch and his brother, both trained at a dairy school in Saxony, Germany. One Kaupisch brother promptly set off for Chicago to procure machinery. A steam engine was purchased and hauled in from a former steam laundry in Carson City, and a 90-foot well was drilled by George Hawkins to supply the new creamery with fresh water.

Corporate officers for the new enterprise included John Frantzen as president and C.M. Henningsen as Secretary. Banker (and man-of-many-talents) Fritz Heise not only served as the company’s treasurer but also helpfully hauled rock for the new creamery’s foundation. C.E. Merrick hired on as the manager.

Such a “quintessential Carson Valley” scene!

“The farmers are enthusiastic over the subject and are preparing to milk as many cows as possible,” the newspaper boasted, adding that local dairymen were scouting for good stock to add to their herds. “In a few years this Valley will be stocked with the finest lot of milk cows to be found anywhere.”

To expand local herds supplying the creamery, the Kaupisch brothers brokered the purchase of another 360 cows from dairies near the California coast that were shutting down — a whole train-load. In the process, though, the Kaupisch pair managed to royally irritate some local feelings; the new cows were mostly Jerseys, Durhams, and Short Horns, because (the Kaupisch brothers claimed) Holsteins “do not prove to be good milkers.”

This last comment received an agitated response in the local Appeal:  “The Kaupisch Brothers, if they made such a statement, evidently know little about milch cows,” the writer sniffed. “Let the proprietors of the Carson Valley Creamery investigate the records of thoroughbreds and not take the products of halfbreeds as a standard.”

The new creamery was touted as a win-win-win for local farmers: “Instead of hunting a market for their butter, they can remain at home and give their full attention to the farm and dairy work,” the local newspaper cheered. “There is no longer need for importing cheese from other States, for a choice article in this line will be manufactured” right there at the new creamery. And the more Carson Valley hay that local dairymen purchased to feed their growing herds, “the more you are patronizing home industry and assisting in making your own community self-supporting.” It was downright patriotic to patronize the creamery!

This is how the new Creamery building would have looked to approaching wagons.
(Photo courtesy Douglas County Historical Society).

When the new creamery building was up and running in the fall of 1891, it had machinery able to handle milk from up to 3,000 cows, and promised production of up to 1.5 tons of butter and 3 tons of cheese each and every day. Milk was to be delivered to the creamery twice a day in summer, and once a day in winter months, and farmers were promised $1 per hundred pounds of milk to start (provided it tested at four pounds of butter to the hundred-weight).

A visiting reporter from the Genoa Weekly Courier gave a fascinating overview of the operation in July, 1891. Farmers would deliver ten-gallon cans of milk, each weighing roughly 80 pounds. Cream content was tested once every month for each farm, and every batch of incoming milk was tested, too, to be sure it hadn’t been watered or skimmed.

A fascinating glimpse of the machinery inside the creamery.

The incoming milk was dumped into an immense bucket for weighing; then the bucket was hoisted to the upper story and drained into a large vat, where pipes took the milk to a centrifugal separator. And not just any separator, mind you; this separator was a special gem, imported from Germany and known as the “Alexandra.”

Once the Alexandra had done its work, the skimmed milk was returned to cans for farmers wishing to buy it (at ten cents for hundred pounds), or drained into the cheese tank for reuse. Watching one such operation, the newspaper reported that farmers “had the skimmed milk in the cans and were ready to return home” just twenty minutes after the milk was delivered.

The butter and cheese operations were additional marvels. Cream was conveyed from the giant Alexandra separator to a cream vat for cooling, where it was allowed to rest or “ripen” for 24 hours before being sent off one of  two steam-driven churns, holding 400-gallons each. A six-foot circular “butter worker” table came next, where salt was added and the butter got worked over by rollers. Off to the cold storage room it went, where it was molded into two-pound square blocks and then packed into cases of 120 pounds apiece. Shipments of butter went to Carson three times a week.

This beautiful mural inside Katie’s Restaurant at Carson Valley Inn shows rancher Herman Scheele, on his way from Fredericksburg to the Creamery with — how many cans of milk? We counted over 30, and this double-wagon probably carried more than that!

A separate cheese-making operation produced small and large rings of cheese, weighing 9 and 28 pounds respectively; as many as 200 of these were turned out a day. (The secret to turning skimmed milk into fatty cheese, shared later by a worker: the addition of just the right proportion of lard!) From the curing room, cheese wheels would slide down a convenient chute into a waiting wagon and were whisked off to market. As for the butter, that was packed into wooden crates, shipped by wagon to Carson City, then loaded onto trains for Virginia City and San Francisco.

And a lucky thing all that hauling that proved to be for teamster Fritz Dangberg. Dangberg arrived from Germany in 1895, and quickly got hired on by the Creamery to drive teams to Carson City. While in Carson, Dangberg used to stable his horses with Zirn Andersen, at Andersen’s Hay Yard. And there, as luck had it, Dangberg got to know Zirn’s sister-in-law, Metta Winkelman, who was staying with the Andersens. One thing led to another, and Fritz and Metta were married in 1897.

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Okay, that’s not the end of the story! But it was too long for one post. So stay tuned next week, when we’ll continue with the rest in Part 2!
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6 thoughts on “Old Carson Valley Creamery”

  1. Lucky Baldwin was also one of the first families to built and live on Lake Tahoe….you can visit his home at the Lake and see what the rest of the buildings were….he built and started the Santa Anita race track in Southern Calif. and also built the Arboretum where Fantasy Island was filmed at the house there.

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