13JN168: Palmer Cheese Factory/Oneida Factory Site

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Excavation

Stephen A. Palmer is identified as the proprietor of the Oneida Cheese Factory (archaeological site 13JN168) by 1878. Dairying was a widespread industry in Jones County, and Bowen's Prairie became famous as a cheese-producing area by the 1860s. Jonathan B. Ross started the first cheese factory in Jones County in 1867. This factory, which operated until about 1893 as the Diamond Creamery, has been identified as archaeological site 13JN211 and exists just to the southwest of the Bowen's Prairie townsite. An article in the June 23, 1866 edition of the Monticello Express provides a description of the early dairy industry in Jones County: 

J. B. Ross, of Bowens Prairie, has completed negotiations with F. M. Hick for the land upon which to erect a cheese factory and will proceed to put up a five thousand dollar establishment between this and spring. Although this is a private enterprise, the factory will be for the use of the neighborhood. It is to be modeled after the New York Cheese factories which have been in successful operation for years.

The following year, the Monticello Express of August 8, 1867, describes this enterprise:

The factory is pleasantly located, about 75 yards from the main road, near the residence of F. M. Hicks, and presents, both in side and out, an appearance as neat and tidy as an old maid's band-box. The establishment is furnished with the best and most approved machinery, and the operators are practical men who understand their business thoroughly. They are now using the milk from 150 cows and turn out nearly 400 pounds of cheese per day. 

The Palmer or Oneida Factory, 13JN168, and adjacent site 13JN169, occur on land that was likely part of Barrett Whittemore's original claim on Bowen's Prairie in 1838, as well as part of his official land grant of 1848. He established a school on the property in 1840 north of the area where 13JN168 has been identified. By 1867 it appears that Jonathan B. Ross owned this property, and by 1877 it was in the hands of Stephen A. Palmer. It may be that Stephen A. Palmer took over a cheese factory from Ross or established it himself by 1878.

Structural evidence and artifacts found in archaeological excavation at 13JN168 confirm the function of the site. Limestone footing supports for the main building were uncovered as well as a large wooden trough slanting away to the northwest and drained by a partially preserved wooden drainage line. Two additional features found at the site include an unlined privy and small refuse pit. Bottle fragments filled the refuse pit, and the privy contained coins dating between 1842 and 1890. A clay-capped, steel-cased well and root or cooling cellar were also uncovered. The discovery of two early cheese factory sites in Jones County promises to provide important information about the dairy industry on the Iowa frontier, a topic little known from historic documents alone.

Small refuse pit
Small refuse pit

Collapsed metal bucket lying above wooden trough
Collapsed metal bucket lying above wooden trough

Structure
Structure