CitySketch: The Dairy

I made a quick sketch of the Dairy in Central Park and was going to write a post about its history but found that Tom Miller had beaten me to it on his Daytonian inManhattan blog:
In 1853, the same year that the New York State Legislature set aside more than 750 acres to create The Central Park, authorities noticed a suspicious rise in the amount of cow’s milk being brought from outlying farms into Manhattan.  Previously about 90,000 quarts arrived in the city each day; now the number rose inexplicably to 120,000.  An investigation was launched.

The findings were chilling.  Investigators found that some dairymen were diluting the milk with water, then adding flour to restore its consistency.  But worse, unscrupulous dairy farmers, many in Brooklyn, were feeding their cows the alcoholic mash left over from the whiskey distillery process.

These cows were stricken with disease and deformities – losing their tails and hooves and developing open sores. The resulting milk, called “swill milk” by the press, was a thin, bluish liquid. To disguise it, the dairymen added plaster of paris, starch and eggs.  Molasses gave it the proper coloring of wholesome milk.  Harper’s Weekly, the newspaper that lead the charge against swill milk, reported that up to 8,000 children in New York died every year.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux

In the meantime, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won the 1858 design competition for Central Park.  Their vision would create open space for all New Yorkers, including the poor and underprivileged.  The green spaces, terraces, ponds and roadways were designed not only for their beauty, but to contribute to public health.  As the Park developed, it would play a substantial role in the milk crisis.

But for now the unspeakable corruption and tragedy continued.   When, in 1862, a Brooklyn “distillery dairy” caught fire, The New York Timesdescribed the deplorable condition of the milk cows that were released into the streets:

Many of the cows were in such a weak condition that they were thrown down and trampled upon by the more recent additions to the stock, and several will have to be braced up before they can undergo the process of milking again…One cow in particular, owing to her deformed feet, being unable to stand, attracted considerable attention, and yet the lookers-on were assured that she gave the best milk of any animal in the whole country.  [The cows had] long tails, short tails, stub tails, and some with no tails at all.  Their appendages were in every conceivable condition, from a sound stump down to stumps in every degree of decomposition… It was a most pitiable and disgusting spectacle.

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly
At the southern point of Central Park–the spot where families would first enter–was to be a Children’s Area.  Although not originally part of Olmstead and Vaux’s design, plans were laid for a dairy here in 1869.  Its purpose would be to provide children with
wholesome milk and pastries with no fear of contamination.
The US Food and Drug Administration, formed in 1906
On February 18, 1870 The New York Times happily anticipated the new project. “The Commissioners of the Central Park have determined to erect and open next Spring a dairy for the supply of pure, wholesome, and unadulterated milk for the special use of invalid and delicate ladies and their infant children visiting the Park…There is a cottage being erected, with a handsome steeple and ornamental turrets, for the accommodation of ladies and infants.  There will be female attendants there, and all the regular conveniences.  In the basement cows will be kept in readiness to supply the demand made of them. Around this cottage a fine area of land is set apart for a playground, exclusively for the very young children, being distinct and separate from the present boys’ and girls’ playground…The milk will be supplied at cost price.”
 
Calvert Vaux designed the dairy, a whimsical fantasy of Victorian Gothic, multi-colored gingerbread right off the pages of Hansel and Gretel. The polychrome wooden loggia was intended to shelter the children from the elements and catch cool breezes in the summer. The stone block dairy, a combination of Manhattan schist and sandstone, took its inspiration from picturesque country German church architecture.

The Central Park Dairy

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