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Oregon Trails: Dairies Deliver

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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – When many people think back to their childhood, a popular image of the milk deliveryman comes to mind. It was a popular service in the Rogue Valley and the Klamath Basin that disappeared 2o years or more ago.

For decades, the Klamath Falls Creamery, maker of Crater Lake brand dairy products, was a major producer of milk, cheese and butter in Southern Oregon. It’s now a brew pub and restaurant, but it’s iconic blue cow sign still marks the place where dairy was king in the Basin.

“There were several dairies that operated right her in Klamath Falls. The Crater Lake creamery right here was just one of them. There was also the Meadow-Bell creamery, the Holiday creamery, the Klamath Falls City Creamery and a number of others. So, we had quite a few operations right here in town,” explained Todd Kepple, with the Klamath County Museum.

Early editions of the Klamath Falls Herald tell of efforts to build the dairy industry in the Basin. There’s even a small community east of Klamath Falls called “Dairy”. The Klamath County Museum has quite a collection of artifacts from the Wood River Creamery at Fort Klamath, including an ice cream packaging machine.

“The Crater Lake Creamery prided itself not only for it’s butter and cheese products, but for its ice cream,” Kepple said. “Several different flavors of ice cream [were] made right here.”

The time was, 50 or 60 years ago, whenever you bought milk, whether it was delivered at home or you bought it in the store, it was in glass bottles. Then, they went to cardboard cartons. Now, almost everything seems to be in plastic.

“A lot of the old timers around here remember very fondly the times when there would be a milkman who’d bring milk bottles around and leave them on the porch, maybe on the back porch,” Kepple recalled, “And then it was in 1952 when they announced that milk bottles were gonna be disappearing and they’d be processing the milk and packaging it in cardboard cartons.”

Commercial diaries or creameries began sprouting up in the Rogue Valley in the late 1800’s. The Ashland Creamery was one of the first where farmers could bring their surplus cream and receive a cash payment, but one of the biggest in the Rogue Valley was Sniders Diary. It began as Medford Dairy in 1910, but within a decade it rose to the surface over a number of other diaries and creameries in the Rogue Valley. Eventually the company sold out the diary business to Arden, but continues today as a Pepsi bottler.

Another major Medford producer of dairy products was Jorgensen’s, which was where Darigold is now. In between, it was also known as Mayflower Dairy. Jorgensens started in Medford in 1945 and was around for almost 30 years. Another Medford-area dairy-supplying stores and providing home delivery was Gilman’s Dairy, between Medford and Central Point. It no longer is in business either and during the war years, newspaper articles point out the concerns local dairymen had over the future Camp White and their ability to supply the additional demand for diary products that was anticipated.

Others in the Rogue Valley were Billanjo Dairy in Eagle Point, and Three Jays Dairy in Gold Hill. The old Three Jay’s Barn is still visible from Interstate 5. A long-time player in Grants Pass was Zattolla family. Not only did they have their own cheese factory, which became Rogue Gold, the Zattollas also operated Valley of the Rogue Dairy for many years. Marty Zattola remembers the efforts his dad made to make the business a success.

“Other than the quality of the product, one of the things that made it such a success was that he treated people right, and he serviced a lot of the smaller businesses in the outlying communities. The rural valleys, the small stores, the mom and pop stores, and he was always very generous with his donations,” Zattola remembered.

Today, there are no more home deliveries, and no more glass bottles. The Central Point Creamery has become world famous in recent years for it’s cheese products, and is also a popular tourist stop. Other nearby cheese factories are in Crescent City and Bandon.

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  1. Tom Schiff says:

    Oh how we loved Crater Lake Ice Cream. Can still remember as a Cub Scout – in the early 50’s – touring the cheese making part of the dairy – and they made it in these huge tubs (and won many awards – Tilamook notwithstanding :) — and then our reward was some great Crater Lake Ice Cream at the end of the tour.

    Those were the days.

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