The Harbor Hill Dairy
One of the few structures from the Harbor Hill Estate that remain standing is the Dairyman’s Cottage, an onsite residence for the person in charge of the Mackay’s personal dairy herd and milk production. The first Harbor Hill dairyman was William Sanders, who was replaced by Katherine Mackay with Charles Hechler in 1907 and then Peter Letson from 1914 until the closing of the estate. Many years later it was occupied by lyricist Hal David, best known for his songwriting partnership with Burt Bacharach. In 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The house is the last remaining indication of the robust dairy production that occurred on the estate from its initial construction to its final days.
In our recent New Years Day post, we presented holiday recollections from Stewart Donaldson, the son of the Mackay’s chauffeur William Donaldson who grew up on the estate and was an early and influential donor to the Local History Collection. As a nod to National Milk Day, so designated because January 11th, 1878 was the first instance of milk ever being delivered in sterilized glass bottles, we would like to share a short excerpt about the Harbor Hill dairy from Donaldson’s extensive reminiscences:
When the estate was first opened in 1902 there was a Jersey herd of cattle. But, this was sold in 1904 and the Guernsey herd was purchased. Mr. William Sanders was dairyman then. He bought many young cattle to build up a good registered herd, and since there were so many young cattle, they could not supply the wants of the house. Mrs. Mackay got angry with Sanders when he tried to explain to her that he was trying to build up a good herd by buying young cattle, thereby saving money.
She [Katherine Mackay] finally let Sanders go in 1907, as she said she was displeased with his excuses. After this Mr. Charles Hechler came to Harbor Hill and as he was a great Guernsey enthusiast he built up the herd. Peter Letson came as dairyman in 1914 and stayed until the estate closed down. There were tests run on these cattle and those under test would be milked four times a day. [They] were fed weighed rations, kept in box stalls and were on this test for probably a month at a stretch. These animals were shown all over and won many ribbons at the Mineola Fair and other fairs. There used to be a standing joke on the estate that Mackay charged 25¢ for a quart of milk that it cost $2 to produce.
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