Shoemaker and Kale’s collection pays tribute to state’s dairy history
WASHINGTON — Butch Shoemaker is collecting milk bottles.
The 76-year old owner of S&L Equipment Rental in White Township wrote a book about the township’s farms a few years ago, but that didn’t slow down his interest in the farming communities of Warren County.
Now he and a partner, Shawn Kale, are compiling the definitive Warren County milk bottle book.
They have collected and documented bottles from 97 dairies out of a total of 103 farms that once produced milk in the county.
Actually, 98 bottles, including one from Viet’s Dairy in Hackettstown they discovered on Saturday, April 14, when they brought their collection to Warren County History Day at the Masonic Lodge here at the invitation of Ron Stevens of the Washington Historical Society who also had bottles and other farm memorabilia and photographs.
They were set up next to the Hackettstown Historical Society table where the society had an R. B. Vliet’s Dairy bottle.
“We were glad to confirm Vliet’s,” Shoemaker said.
When he started, Shoemaker thought there were probably about 40 dairies that bottled their own milk in the county over the course of many years. The 103 figure that he has determined surprised him. Even the smallest towns had dairies.
“There were five or six in Oxford,” he said. He is working on confirming a second one in Hope.
Most of the bottles came to him after he put the word out he was researching dairies, Shoemaker said.
Many were preserved courtesy of the Morris Canal. Once it was abandoned in the 1920s, stretches of the canal were used as a garbage dump. As bad as that was for the groundwater, it turned the canal into a treasure-trove of discards.
Some farms used generic bottles without their names on them. Others bottled for several farms, Shoemaker said. Some dairies changed names over the years. So bottles with different names may have come from the same farm.
Shoemaker worked at the Delaware Valley Dairy in Harmony as a teen. He said it wasn’t unusual for kids to milk cows before school and move in with a farm family for the summer.
Kale lives just over the river from Belvidere and started to collect Belvidere and Oxford bottles when he worked at BASF in Belvidere. He and Shoemaker united their collections and built the display cases they brought to Victorian Days in Belvidere last fall and to History Day.
They are always interested in getting the bottles from the remaining dairies and for information on any other dairies that might have been in the county.
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