Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mount Vernon: The Carnation City

Nowadays, Mount Vernon, Missouri, is known for being the seat of Lawrence County, for its Apple Butter Makin' Days festival each fall, and for being home to a Veterans' home and a VA clinic (formerly a VA hospital), among other reasons. At one time it was known as the "Carnation City: Home of the Contented Cow" or just the Carnation City for short.
In 1923 the Carnation Milk Products Company began looking into Mount Vernon as a possible site for a new condensary to produce evaporated milk. A public announcement of its decision was planned for July 9th of that year, and "one of the largest crowds ever assembled on the courthouse lawn," according to the Springfield Republican, turned out to hear the announcement. Company officials had expressed concern as to whether there was enough interest in dairying among area farmers to justify the venture; so when the announcement was made that the company would indeed follow through with its tentative plan, a loud shout went up among the gathered crowd. The condensary was projected to cost $200,000 and it was projected that it could process 100,000 pounds of milk a day purchased from area dairy farmers.
Construction on the plant began right away and was going strong by September. It was completed the following spring at a cost of $250,000, and the condensary opened on May 1 with no special ceremony to mark the occasion. It was Carnation's first plant in Missouri.
The plant processed 25,000 pounds of milk the first day. Dairy farmers brought their milk to nineteen different collection stations throughout Lawrence County, and it was then taken to the plant in Mount Vernon by company trucks.
Area farmers, spurred by the promise of a market, took to dairy farming in earnest, and the dairy industry in Lawrence County was soon growing more rapidly than in any other county in Missouri. The Mount Vernon area was especially known for its Jerseys and Holsteins.
The company was still going strong in January 1928, when the Republican reported that Lawrence County now had about 1,100 dairy farmers who milked a total of about 17,000-18,000 cows. The plant received about 60,000 pounds of milk per day on average, although the previous summer, at the peak of the season, it had received as much as 146,000 pounds in a single day. Many farmers were building new barns and silos and otherwise expanding their operations. Dairy farming, the Republican proclaimed, had "turned a community that was practically bankrupt into a prosperous and progressive center within four years."
As large, commercial dairy farms in other states gradually displaced family farmers as the main producers of milk products during the middle part of the 20th century, the Carnation operation at Mount Vernon evolved from an evaporated milk plant to a soft drink bottling company. And the bottling company finally closed after a fire destroyed much of the facility in September of 1974 and company officials decided, because of economic factors, not to rebuild.

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