ISTORICAL writers, from Rev. Charles Brooks
onward, have alluded to the distillers of old Medford.
The ‘Old Medford’ they produced was said to be the best
rum ever made (for which, thanks).
The Register has recently presented two interesting articles relative to Medford's water supply and its distribution.
No elaborate system of great central reservoir and underground pipes conveys the lacteal fluid to our kitchen; it is still delivered by the pint or quart by a hurrying man or boy, as in the olden days, and the business is now ably conducted by a few well-known people.
When Medford was a farming town, as in the old time, ere the rise of ship-building, more butter and cheese was made and less milk sold.
With its increased population and the growing city of Boston there came a market for milk, and the business increased accordingly.
The wagon business felt its influence, also, and Medford-built milk wagons were in demand, because of their excellent and thorough workmanship.
Mr. Francis Wait
, now over fourscore years, tells much of interest and of his own experience in the business over sixty-five years ago.
Mr. Joseph E. Ober
, the veteran grocer of West Medford, was formerly in the milk business, and tells of his route, which he bought of one Hadley
, who conducted it before the Civil War
. Mr. Ober
lived at the ‘Foot of the Rocks
’ in Arlington, but kept no cows, receiving his milk from farmers in Lexington and Billerica and supplying customers in Medford each day with the product of the previous day's milking.
Seventy-five cans of [p. 2]
eight quarts each was the usual quantity he delivered.
The milkmen usually wore a long blue frock, and jumped from the wagon steps with big can in one hand and a tin quart measure in the other, leaving the horse, who had learned the route, to stop at his own sweet will, which depended somewhat upon the proximity of the next customer's house.
In cold weather that quart measure varied a little as the mercury lowered toward zero, doubtless adding to the milkman's profits, and some canny housewives were known to kindly furnish some boiling water before receiving their daily supply, thriftily saving the mixture obtained for the family pig,—perhaps.
Beside the kitchen door was the printed ‘milk score,’ with blank spaces numbered up to thirty-one, in which the milkman marked any ‘extra milk’ supplied.
Among Mr. Ober
's customers was the famous Mystic Hall Seminary, though it had a few cows of its own. The price at that time was five cents per quart, but during the war rose to twelve cents.
No inconsiderable number of householders kept cows of their own and supplied a neighbor or two with milk.
The writer recalls his own experience, in the early morning of his first day of housekeeping, of going to a neighbor a quarter mile away (West Medford was thinly settled then), pitcher in hand, ere breakfast for two was served.
The four cents paid for that pint of milk was the first item (after the parson's fee) of his household expense.
Before evening a regular supply was engaged from another neighbor who had, besides a cow, several boys who distributed the surplus of milk on their way to school.
After a few years we, too, found a cow—‘a good thing to have in the family,’ which had increased somewhat— and also supplied some neighbors.
Several others did likewise, till there came to be too much quarrel over the free pasturage we depended on, and we reluctantly parted with old ‘Brindle
,’ and called in the regular milkman again.
This was in 1880, when more than a dozen cows [p. 3]
might have been seen tethered by a long rope or chain on the vacant land between Boston Avenue and the river.
Our own experience was, doubtless, like that of others, and as more houses were built the family cow (and pig as well) was crowded out.
Now nobody sees the quart measures of those days.
After a time the practice of leaving each customer's supply in a small can came in vogue, and this is superseded by the glass bottles, with dealer's name, and of duly prescribed size, all according to law.
The Mr. Hadley
who preceded J. E. Ober
may have succeeded Mr. Milliken
. Mr. Ober
sold out to Lockhart
; and there was T. H. Nourse
, who also came from the ‘Foot of the Rocks
’; also a Mr. Hobbs
These were the advance guard of the present army of local milkmen.
In Mr. Wait
's reminiscences, which follow, there is ample opportunity to read between the lines by comparison with present-day methods, remembering that the first railroad train passed through Medford
only ten years before his ‘driving milk wagon,’ and that the men he mentions relied mostly on their Boston
From it may be formed some idea of the strenuous life of a hardy set of men of two generations past.