Last month we traveled down the old Shabakunk Road (known today as Ewingville Road) towards Federal City Road and the old Ewingville Schoolhouse, and past the Fred Wenzel Farm, and his pig pens, apple orchards and corn fields.
We continue in this direction, and as the road takes a bend to the right (roughly at Antheil School), we come upon the Crozer/Vernam Dairy Farm, which stretches across both sides of the road down to the intersection at “Bull’s Alley” (today’s Green Lane).
The approximately 130 acre farm was formerly part of the large tract of land associated with the circa 1700 William A. Green property. Over time the Green land was subdivided into smaller parcels, and in 1873, Thomas and Catherine Crozer from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, purchased this parcel, calling it Echo Farm.
The original homestead built on the land in 1873 was destroyed by fire in 1880, but another was built. The farm generated market produce, and more than 200 quarts of milk per day.
In addition to running a farm, Mr. Crozer over his lifetime had bought and sold horses for government use during the Civil War, and owned a livery stable in Trenton. He was also at one time a member of the state legislature, a county sheriff, and a cattle inspector for the county.
In 1897, at the age of 70, Thomas Crozer sold Echo Farm to his daughter Lillie Crozer Vernam and his 38-year-old son-in-law, John Wesley “Wes” Vernam (Sr). The farm now also produced grain and grass crops, and still maintained a herd of dairy cattle, which enabled Wes Vernam to supply milk to local families. His horse and wagon carried 40-quart-cans of milk along the daily route, with customers dipping their own containers into these cans to get their milk. Free-flowing water from a spring on the farm kept the milk cool.
Around 1910, Clifford Crozer Vernam (b. 1888), eldest son of Wes and Lillie Vernam, took over the milk route from his father Wes. He married Maude Hunt, and moved to a house they built “up the road a piece” towards Ewingville.
The acre-plus property had a foursquare house with a wraparound porch, a barn for horses, a chicken loft, and a springhouse with flowing water to cool the milk. The 1920 Census lists Cliff and his wife Maude living on Ewingville Road, working as a “salesman” in “milk retail.”
The home still stands today, at 500 Ewingville Road. Cliff began the use of glass milk bottles in his business. Tragically, Clifford Vernam succumbed to the influenza epidemic in 1920, at age 32, leaving his widow with the home and business.
In 1921, Cliff’s brother John Wesley Vernam Jr. (age 25) purchased the milk business and property from his sister-in-law. In a privately published memoir of the family dairy business, John Wesley Vernam III writes of his father:
“At this time John Wesley Jr. was selling milk produced both on his father’s farm and by local farmers, which they delivered to his springhouse. As his business grew, he built an addition onto the springhouse that included a boiler room to sterilize water for cleaning bottles and equipment, and an adjacent room to accommodate bottling equipment. At this time, he began using glass bottles, embossed with Vernam’s Dairy, but he still sold only raw milk.”
Milk was delivered to homes in Trenton and Ewing early in the morning. Later in the day, empty bottles were washed and raw milk was bottled and stored in the springhouse. Then the bottling equipment and springhouse were washed, and prepared for the next day.
These were expensive investments for an individual to make. But around 1930 when pasteurization became required, the investment became even larger. John Vernam Jr. faced an impossible purchase following the stock market crash, or the loss of the business. He sold the business to Crane Milk Company of Philadelphia, which had a local milk “depot” in Trenton.
But—this was not the end of Vernam’s Dairy in Ewing! We’ll continue the story next month.
* * *
My sincere thanks to Carol Vernam Hill, President of the Ewing Historical Society, for supplying the unpublished memoir about the Vernam family dairy business.