By Bob Sandeen, NCHS Research Assistant
It Begins with Butter
The story of the creameries in Nicollet County revolves around the butter produced during the county’s early years.
Early settlers milked cows to provide milk for use in their homes, but made no large scale attempts to market milk products. Butter that was made on the farms provided only small amounts of money to the farmers when they sold it in the cities. Besides, the butter was difficult to preserve from the time it was made until it was transported to a market, sold, and consumed. As the number of farmers who began to build herds of dairy cattle grew, the problem of what to do with the vast quantities of milk that became available urgently needed an effective solution. Butter making seemed to be an excellent way to help solve the problem.
Swen Swenson and His Holsteins
One of the first men in Nicollet County to deal with the issue was Swen Swenson of New Sweden Township. This Norwegian-born immigrant introduced the first purebred Holstein herd in Nicollet County and was involved in establishing the first co-operative creamery in the county. Swenson’s herd produced large quantities of milk and the only way to make it marketable was to churn the cream into butter. Swenson was aware of creameries in Freeborn County and Iowa. Still, at that time, there were no creameries in Nicollet County. His research on creameries led him to work to convince other farmers in the area to consider building a creamery nearby.
The efforts of Swen Swenson and those who worked with him resulted in the construction of Nicollet County’s first creamery in the Traverse community in 1890. The first butter maker there was Peter Johnson, who was paid 40 dollars per month. His assistant, Claus Olson, received 20 dollars per month.
Initially, it was challenging to find an efficient way to pay the farmers for their milk. Ultimately, the creamery decided to pay so much per inch for the cream. The cream was hand-skimmed from the milk then placed in tall cans. A rule was dipped in, and the patron paid according to the depth of the cream in the can.
Six men were hired from various parts of the county to travel to the dairy farms, collect the whole milk at each farm, and transport it to the creamery in Traverse. They went as far as the peripheries of New Ulm, Mankato, and Gaylord. After several years, this method proved to be too costly. Several sites were established where farmers could bring their whole milk to be skimmed. The farmers brought the resulting skim milk home, where it could be used to feed animals. The haulers brought the resulting cream to the creamery in Traverse, where it was made into butter.
After seeing how successful the creamery in Traverse was, Nicollet County farmers established creameries in almost all of the county’s 13 townships.
Courtland Cooperative Creamery 1893-1970 | The Cooperative Creamery was organized on March 13, 1893. A building to house the operation was completed on June 21, 1893. James H. Doty served as the association’s first president and Peter Johnson was the first buttermaker. The creamery was located in the village of Courtland at the north end of 4th Street.
Nicollet Township Nicollet Creamery Association 1896-1965 | The officers at the time of organization were H.C. Randall, Henry Enter, A.W. Rood, August Stolt, F.L. Otto, August Freitag, Elmer E. Gleason and Carl Netzke. The creamery was located on the northwest corner of the intersection of Sixth and Cedar Streets in the village of Nicollet.
Klossner, Oakland Cooperative Dairy Association 1925 | The first meeting was held in October 1925. Officers included Herman Albrecht (president), Henry Simmet (treasurer), Joseph Simmet (secretary and manager), Robert Reinhart, Joseph A. Vetter and Anton B. Meidl (directors). D.D. Sorenson served as first buttermaker. The creamery was located in the hamlet of Klossner.
Brighton Township Brighton Creamery 1905-1919 | The creamery was located in section 3 of Brighton Township.
North Star Creamery Association 1899-1933 | The first meeting of the North Star Creamery Association was held on February 1, 1899. A building was built but, destroyed by an explosion in 1903. The Association quickly rebuilt. The creamery was located west of the general store, on the north side of what is currently State Highway 99 in North Star in Oshawa Township.
Lake Prairie Township | Norseland Cooperative Creamery 1896-1970 | The first meeting was held on January 25, 1896 with the election of the following officers: John Adrian Johnson (president), B.O. Norman (vice president), Ole Anthony (secretary) and John Burke (treasurer). The creamery was located close to the Post Office in Norseland in Lake Prairie Township.
Bernadotte, Riverside Creamery 1895-1959 | The first meeting was held on November 23, 1895 in the hamlet of Bernadotte. First officers included M.J. Hedren (president), Ole Palmer (vice president), August Hed (secretary), Charles Samuelson (treasurer), Edward Ryden, Andrew Jacobson and Andrew Essling (directors). The first buttermaker to serve the creamery was Charles H. Jensen. The creamery was located in section 3 of Bernadotte Township Bernadotte, on the east side of the road through the community, southeast of the Bernadotte Lutheran Church.
New Sweden Creamery 1895-1972 | The New Sweden Creamery was organized on January 26, 1895. First officers included Swen Swenson (president), P.M. Tegner (vice president), A.P. Anderson (secretary), M.P. Quist (treasurer), Martin Peterson, Charles Anderson and C.S. Olson (directors). The creamery building was quickly built in 1896. The first buttermaker to serve the creamery was M.M. Hjemstad. However the most renown buttermaker followed. Samuel Haugdahl was awarded “Grand Prix De Honear” at International Exposition at Paris in 1900. This was the world grand prize for the best tub of butter. The creamery was located on the east side of the highway, on land donated by John Sandberg. Top photo courtesy of Marlin Peterson.
Traverse, Willow Lawn Creamery | The organizational meeting was held on March 14, 1890 in Traverse Township. This creamery was a cooperative effort between farmers of Bernadotte, Granby, Lake Prairie, New Sweden, Oshawa and Traverse Townships. Willow Lawn Creamery was the first creamery in Nicollet County. The creamery was located in Traverse, across the road from the grain elevator.
St. Peter Creamery 1907 | A group of St. Peter businessmen organized the St. Peter Creamery after the Willow Lawn Creamery in Traverse was destroyed by fire. The group wanted to take over the Traverse Creamery’s business, but the Willow Lawn Creamery rebuilt and regained its patrons. St. Peter Creamery was then forced to take over buying stations from across the river. The St. Peter Creamery was the last creamery in Nicollet County to manufacture butter. The creamery was located at 119 North Front Street. A note on the back states that the photograph was taken in 1920.
Oshawa Creamery Association 1893-1899 (section 29) | This organization served as a skimming station. The cream was then transported to Willow Lawn Creamery by train to be churned into butter. The Association reorganized as a creamery in 1899.
The 1899 Plat Book of Nicollet County shows the locations of the other creameries that existed that year.
Lafayette Cooperative Dairy Association 1864-1918 (section 16) | On November 20, 1894 forty-one Lafayette Township farmers organized the Lafayette Cooperative Dairy Association. The Association’s first officers included Michael Seitz, president; Joseph Traurig, treasurer; Joseph Wild, William Daunheim and Wolfgang Hacker, directors. The creamery was built in 1895 for nearly $2800. The creamery was located in section 16 of Lafayette Township. Lafayette Farmers Cooperative Creamery 1915-1970 The Creamery was incorporated in 1915. Its first officers were Henning Johnson (president), C.H. Nelson (vice president), John Helberg (secretary) and E.L. Johnson (treasurer). Alex Johnson served as the first buttermaker. The “Golden Star Brand” of butter was made in Lafayette and shipped across the state. The creamery was located in the village of Lafayette.
Kerns, Oak Lawn Creamery Association 1897-1921 | The first meeting to organize was held on November 23, 1897 at L.P. Parsons blacksmith shop in Kerns. First officers included O.K. Door (president), J.P. Meurer (vice president), W.G. Clark (secretary), H.C. Randall (treasurer), L.R. Hobart, Thomas Hodson and F.E. Budde (trustees). On December 14, 1897 officers met and chose a name for the creamery. It was to be known as The Oak Lawn Creamery Association with L.R. Hobart as buttermaker. The creamery building and business were destroyed by fire in 1921. The creamery was located in section 6 of Belgrade Township.
St. George Dairy Corporation 1895 (section 26) | In January 1895, fifty West Newton Township farmers met and decided to build a creamery. The building was ready for operation in the spring. The creamery was located in St. George in West Newton township.
Bernadotte and Lafayette Skimming Station 1894-1917 | The skimming station was a cooperative operation between farmers of Bernadotte and Lafayette Townships. The skimming station was located on the Ole Peterson farm in section 33 of Bernadotte Township.
It is interesting to note that less than a decade passed between the construction of the first creamery and the last one in the list above.
Creameries Pop-up Across the County
There were additional creameries constructed in Nicollet County in that era. A creamery is shown in the 1913 Nicollet County Atlas in section 3 of Brighton Township on land owned by S. O. Peterson. An article in the October 17, 1924 issue of the Saint Peter Tribune states that people in St. Peter decided about 18 years earlier that a creamery in the community was needed. The 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company’s map of the town shows the resulting creamery on the east side of North Front Street, nearly a block north of the Broadway Bridge.
Sources indicate that many, if not all, of the constructed structures during the 1890s were later replaced with more substantial ones.
Some examples are listed here.
- A fire destroyed the original building in Traverse in 1907, but a new one quickly replaced it. Improvements were made over the years, including ones in 1924.
- A new creamery building opened in New Sweden in 1924.
- The Oshawa creamery was destroyed in 1903 by a fire that followed a dynamite explosion that happened while work was in progress on a well. A new one soon replaced the building.
- Courtland replaced its original creamery in 1913.
- And Nicollet got a new one in 1917.
- A new creamery was dedicated in Norseland in 1930.
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