By Helen Ofield, Lemon Grove Historical Society
Photos: Lemon Grove Historical Society
July 5, 2020 (Lemon Grove) -- Since Miller Dairy's founding in 1926 and its demise in 1985, Lemon Grove has looked back at its noble agrarian past and its unique persona as an urban-rural enclave, and wiped away a few tears — because once there were cows. As recently as 1983, 300 cows roamed the 16-acre Miller Dairy smack in the middle of town.
You could see, hear and smell the cows of Miller Dairy everywhere. At dawn, you heard them lowing in their stalls as the Miller sons, Ralph, Ed, Pete and Bill, milked each Holstein. At dusk, you heard the jangle of cow bells as the herd walked back into the barn for a repeat performance.
Catherine Miller got a cow to save the arduous, round-trip walk with small children from their Golden Avenue home to the Sonka Bros' General Store on Main Street. Her cow was prolific, giving more than enough milk for all the Miller kids. You can see how great ideas evolve. Why not bottle and sell the pure, organic real deal to the neighbors? Charles added three more Holstein cows and Miller Dairy was born.
"Miller Dairy Remembered" brings it all back. The exhibit, replete with family photographs, the German family Bible, bales of hay and copious artifacts, was designed by Laura Hook, written by Helen Ofield, and made possible by the generosity of the Gale LaGace Endowment for the Parsonage Museum. The Lemon Grove Historical Society is grateful to all who have donated exhibit materials, especially June Miller and Claudia Motal Miller.
The exhibit shows the German immigrant family, patriarch Charles Miller on the job in a Cleveland shoe factory, ace drummer Bill Miller at Grossmont High School, and much more in this classic making-it-in-America saga.
When the dairy closed in January, 1985 and was replaced by pretty Miller's Ranch, the brothers knew what was lost. The youngest, Bill, said, “It’s not like walking away from a corporate career with a gold watch. We’re part of our community, and when you work with animals you become attached to them, too.”*
“Miller Dairy Remembered" is on view June 27 - Dec. 4 in the Parsonage Museum, 3185 Olive Street, Treganza Heritage Park, on Saturdays, 11 am to 2 pm. (closed on major holidays and Dec. 22 - Jan. 2). Children 12 and under are free and must be accompanied by an adult. A $2 donation is suggested for others. Covid-19 rules are in force for masks and social distancing, with plenty of hand sanitizer available.
*quote reported by Karen O'Rourke for the East County Californian, 1985