Ouray County History: Dairies Thrived During Mining Days
When one thinks of businesses in Ouray County, milk dairies do not instantly come to mind, but one hundred years ago dairies were very important to Ouray County. Many of these dairies were small with only a few cows. They sold their milk to the larger dairies that sold directly to the public using their own milk as well as milk bought from the small outfits. In 1900 the Ouray Herald reported that there were a half dozen large dairies in Ouray County.
Nineteenth century milkmen would load several five-gallon cans of milk into a wagon for the trip to town. They would stop at each customer’s house and jingle a bell. The buyer would come out with a pail and, using a long handled dipper, ladle out the desired quantity of milk. The driver never left his seat. It wasn’t quite as sanitary as we would demand today, but in the early 1900s the customer got their 12 quarts of milk for a dollar.
One of Ouray’s first dairies was Jim Brown’s Riverside Dairy located in the small flat where the Box Canyon Road leaves the one leading to Sneffels (today’s Camp Bird Road). Just past his dairy the road began a steep climb that today is still known as “Jim Brown Hill.” He sold milk to the Revenue Mine and, in 1896, needing much more space he moved the dairy to the Bachelor Switch area two miles north of Ouray. The Bachelor Switch was a station on the D&RG Railroad on the east side of the Uncompahgre River in front of today’s Whispering Pines Subdivision. By 1900 Brown had changed the name of the dairy to the Revenue Dairy. At that time he was delivering 70 to 100 gallons of milk per day to the Revenue Mine!
In 1896 Joe Scales built another large dairy located where the CDOT yard is today on the Camp Bird Road. The 20% grade of the Mears Toll Road began behind the dairy and the hill was known as “The Milk Ranch Hill.” Scales sold the dairy in 1911. It operated for many years and was eventually called the Camp Bird Dairy. (Photo left courtesy of the Ouray County Historical Society).
The V. I. Hoskins Cedar Hill Dairy was located in 1899 just north of the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Dairies often changed hands such as the Boon Flora Dairy (1883) that became the Lewis Dairy (1896) and then the Foley Dairy (1899) and finally the Merling Dairy (1904). The Orvis family ran a dairy at the Orvis Hot Springs during the early 1900s.
Axel Erickson built the Highland Dairy in 1913. It was located high in the hills across the valley from Lake Lenore. In 1936 it was taken over by Axel’s son-in-law, John Honstein, who operated it into the mid 1940s. Many dairies closed during WWII due to government price controls and a lack of labor.
The Whinnerah Brothers (Robert, Raymond and Richard) had a ranch on Billie Creek just south of Colona. They sold buttermilk door to door, and Richard who usually made the trip into Ouray, was well known as “Buttermilk Dick.” Richard went on to become a well-known Ouray County mining surveyor.
The Ridgway Creamery (the building still stands on Sherman Street) was incorporated in 1905. They did not have any cows of their own but bought milk from area ranchers. It was ably managed by George Braham. In 1910 they produced 260,000 pounds of cream and 70,000 pounds of butter for a net profit of $1400. The creamery lasted until 1920 when it succumbed to competition from creameries in Montrose.
Victor Dalpaz operated the Dalpaz dairy from 1938 to 1972. It was located west of the Uncompahgre River about 5 miles north of Ouray. Other dairymen I was able to discover include Charles Winstrom, George Hanzel, Fred Jerome, E. W. Roscoe, J. D.Boyce, H. A. Siebert, Ross Gray, Erin Sigfrid and D. E. Pilcher.
One hundred years ago there were many milk cows in Ouray County that provided additional income to small farms. The miners and their families drank a lot of milk, much more than we drink today. It wasn’t pasteurized but ice was available from the several icehouses in Ouray.
About the Author: Don Paulson is the curator at the Ouray County Historical Society and Ouray County Museum. He is also a retired Professor of Chemistry where he specialized in organic chemistry. Don is an active member of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, and an avid hiker, 4WD (jeep) enthusiast, and photographer in addition to his duties as curator for the museum.