Last month, we left John Vernam Jr. being forced to sell his dairy business to the Crane Milk Company of Philadelphia, due to the expense of meeting newly-passed pasteurization laws in the midst of the stock market crash and Depression. Additionally, sellers were required to refrain from competing with Crane for two-years. Vernam’s life was certain to change.
But as son William Vernam wrote in his memoir years later about the family dairy business, “the Crane Milk Company delivered a poor product, and business fell off, precipitating bankruptcy.”
Vernam filed suit against Crane, and although he did not prevail, he was compensated with two trucks. Once the two-year period of non-competition was over, both Vernam and his brother, Arthur, continued with separate dairy businesses, sub-dealing raw milk and their own product labeling to Hendrickson’s Dairy on North Olden Avenue near Prospect Street, which then pasteurized and bottled the milk.
Meanwhile, Lillie and John Vernam Sr. moved to a home in the developing area of Hillwood Lakes, and their Shabakunk Road farm was sold to butcher Otto Kundel, who raised beef cattle. The land would eventually be sold to the township for playing fields and the location of Antheil School.
Vernam and his wife, Etta, continued living at 500 Ewingville Road, where the milk house was fitted with a large walk-in refrigerator. Sadly, Etta died in 1934. John later married Lina Wrenn, and together they ran the dairy.
Both Vernam and his brother’s dairy businesses continued to grow through the late 30s and even during the war years. After the war ended, Vernam’s sons William and John III joined their father’s business, producing and delivering milk.
Perhaps it should be clarified here for younger readers that there was a time when milk—and later other dairy products—were quietly and efficiently delivered to your door a few times a week, and not by Amazon!
A family would contract with the “milkman” to deliver a checklist of items on the next scheduled delivery day, to take back empty bottles, and leave freshly filled ones in an insulated metal box at your door. Each milk company had several routes which served different parts of the town or area.
In the growth period following the end of the war, these routes grew in length and number. Additional items were added for delivery: differing grades of milk, eggs, butter and cottage cheese. In the 1950s, homogenized milk became popular and was also offered.
For the next decade or more, Vernam’s Dairy continued to thrive. Accounts were added, products added, routes expanded and smaller, local milk delivery routes were consolidated into the business. Some of the local farms and routes eventually contributing to Vernam’s Dairy were Ed Jones’ farm on Pennington Road across from Green Lane, John Scudder’s Oakland Farms (with his own bottling plant) on Sullivan Way in West Trenton, and delivery routes from Horace Eggert, Louis Eggert and Lester Leisch.
Vernam purchased his brother Arthur’s business, and in 1955, Vernam and his two sons formed an equal partnership in the Vernam Dairy business. Deliveries of more than 600 quarts of milk began to be on alternate days instead of daily, with Sundays off.
The business continued to grow, expanding beyond retail home delivery to wholesale delivery to stores, schools and restaurants. When the owners of the local processing plant, Hendrickson’s Dairy, decided to retire in the 1960s, Raritan Valley Farms in Somerville assumed the role, renting the space formerly owned by Hendricksons. However, Raritan was not willing to use the Vernam Dairy labeling and bottles. Vernam Dairy milk was now in bottles with Raritan labels.
By 1966, the Vernams sold their delivery routes to Raritan, which continued to employ their employees. But relatively soon thereafter, Raritan went into bankruptcy and the Vernams sought other employment. By the late 60s, retail home delivery of milk was rapidly waning, farmland locally had largely disappeared, and “the times, they were a-changing.”
* * *
Again, I am indebted to Carol Vernam Hill and the Vernam family for sharing their family memoir with me for the purpose of this column.