Got Milk? Alfar Creamery made sure West Palm Beach did

Sometimes, life is just weird. I did my research for this blog last night, I sat down to write at 8:00 PM, flipped on the History Channel for Modern Marvels – and the whole show was about milk. We all pick up gallons or half-gallons of milk at our local supermarkets, not really knowing where the milk was produced, or how old it is. That wasn’t true of West Palm Beach back in the 1920s, when milk had to be delivered fresh each day. There was quite a bit of demand for milk and milk products such as butter, ice cream, sour cream and cream, and a growing city needed a dairy that could meet those needs. Alf R. Nielsen, a native Swede, who had been president of the Palm Beach Creamery Company, founded the Alfar Creamery Company in 1930. A dairy plant was built at 456 Flamingo Drive at the cost of $75,000,

Alfar Creamery Logo

Alfar Creamery Logo

and opened with great fanfare and a party til midnight on November 20, 1930. A.E. Parker, the former city manager of West Palm Beach was vice-president and was also president of Bertana Farms. He was also Major Boynton’s son-in-law and managed the Boynton Hotel for many years. Bertana Farms was a combination of a part of his first name “Bert” and “Ana”, his wife.

They bought their milk from the big dairy producers of the day, the famous Pennock Plantation in Jupiter with its Jersey cows (specializing in unpasteurized milk), the Bertana and Winchester dairies in Boynton, and the Clark Dairy in Kelsey City (today’s Lake Park). The white trucks of the Alfar Creamery delivered milk daily all over West Palm Beach, packed in ice to keep it fresh in the heat.

Alfar Box

Alfar Ice Cream

Service was extended to Belle Glade in 1934 with the opening of the western plant. Alfar also was famous for its ice cream in a variety of flavors, even Palm Beach!

Alfar also sponsored bowling teams and kid’s baseball teams, so they were a real supporter of the local community. The Alfar logo was everywhere to be seen, but probably no more iconically than on “The Hut”, the famous lakeside drive-in that was in West Palm Beach.

The Hut

The Hut Drive-in – West Palm Beach

Alfar provided all the dairy products for the milk shakes and malts, and the refrigeration equipment and neon signs as for this icon of West Palm Beach. Alfar also sold many thousands of the famous “Dixie

Dixie Cup

Collector Dixie Cup lid with Bob Hope

Cups” with ice cream, and the old lids are highly sought by collectors.

As time went on, the local dairy business became more difficult as consumers began buying milk at supermarkets. I can remember as a kid that the milkman still did stop by (McArthur Dairy) and would sell milk, ice cream and other dairy products and I loved it when my mom bought things from the milkman, but she said it was more expensive than the store.

In 1963, Alfar merged with the Boutwell Dairy in Lake Worth. The Boutwell Dairy was founded by William Boutwell, who had invented the process that produced half and half. At its peak, the Boutwell dairy had more than a 1,000 Guernseys at his dairy located at Congress and Forest Hill Boulevard (then called Selby Road). After the merger, products were sold as Alfar-Boutwell. Then in 1968, the T.G. Lee Dairy in Orlando bought the Alfar-Boutwell Creamery, and the Alfar name dissappeared from the West Palm Beach area. In the continuing mergers, Dean Foods bought the T.G. Lee brand. By the end of the 1970s, all of the dairies in eastern Palm Beach County had closed as the land had become too valuable for dairy farming.

So what happened to the Alfar plant? Did the property become housing or a shopping center? Nope. In some miracle, the property is still a dairy distribution plant and serves as the headquarters of McArthur Dairy (also owned by Dean Foods).  It is still located at the same address on Flamingo Road along the Florida East Coast railroad.
Information for this article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post.

McArthur Dairy

McArthur Dairy Headquarters

Living on Flagler’s lands? You probably are.

I often wish I could build a time machine and see Palm Beach County as it was in the late 1890s. One thing is for sure though – I better have some good wading boots with me. Almost all of the land would have been under water during the rainy season from June to November. So who would want all that swamp land? Henry Flagler would – and he got most of it for free.

The federal government had a long-standing program of granting land to railroad builders, usually to the tune of several thousand acres for every mile of railroad. Palm Beach County was no exception, and through land grants and purchases from homesteaders, Flagler had amassed more than 100,000 acres in Palm Beach county. Much of the land was useless as it was, so in stepped the Lake Worth Drainage District to make the land arable for agriculture and dairy. The work was begun in 1916 and more than 131,000 acres of land was drained at the cost of 2.8 million dollars. This involved digging hundreds of miles of canals and ditches to drain the land out through the major canals like the Southern Boulevard and Boynton

ad

Model Land Company ad from 1924.

(now the Weaver Canal). This also meant all lands were now part of a “taxing district” and owners had to pay a yearly drainage tax on land that was not producing anything. Check your tax bill – chances are you are still paying a tax to the Lake Worth Drainage District if you own land in their area.

Once work was largley finished by 1921, the land was sold in farming size tracts of many sizes. The Model Land Company was formed in 1898 and was led by J.E. Ingraham, whom Flagler recognized as having good business sense. The Model Land Company sold land up and down the east coast of Florida from the land Flagler amassed through the railroad. Flagler never made any money on his hotels, and the railroad itself was a financial disaster from day one. The land sales, however, kept everything else afloat. As individual settlers bought various land tracts from the Model Land Company, they probably farmed on it or leased it out to bigger agricultural concerns. Gradually, tracts were sold and consolidated until finally landing in the hands of developers. From the 1930s to the 1970s, these developments were more of the City of Atlantis-type where streets and utilities were laid and individual lots sold for a house custom-built for the owner. From the 1980s to today, the developments are the typical “cookie-cutter” variety with three or four models from which to choose.

As I searched through the online archives of the Model Land Company (available at http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/asm0075/) I found a letter dated February 3, 1923 that mentioned a land owner who wanted to sell his tracts (all the land between Military Trail and Lawrence Roads from the Boynton Canal south to where Woolbright Road is today) to Norwegian settlers. The owner could not afford the drainage taxes and would eventually lose the land. He wanted the Model Land Company’s help in getting a road built through the land. A community center was to be built in the center of the tract. Hard to imagine we could have had a little Norwegian village with 100 families in Palm Beach County. A June 14, 1923 article from the Palm Beach Post proclaimed “Norse Colony to be formed near Boynton.” I don’t know if the families ever came, or whatever happened to the idea. That is a mystery to be solved.