Artifact of the Week — January 18, 2024

Posted by on January 18, 2024

Porch Milk Boxes

A recent drive to Betty Barnett’s house to fill our “A Taste of Community” exhibit with Mack Farm Dairy items unearthed an unusual find: a porch milk box. Appropriately, it is emblazoned with the Mack Farm Dairy name.

When milk was delivered daily by horse and buggy (or later, by truck) to houses in Batesville, the driver’s route included customers with different daily needs. While large families may ask for a gallon a day, others were content with a quart every few days. The obstacle in purchasing milk was in its preservation: before the 1940s, refrigerators were rare and families who ordered milk generally kept in mind their needs for the day. If they did not finish the milk, chances are it would sour.

Milk deliveries were usually early in the morning before families had cooked breakfast, which almost always included milk. However, most families were not awake at the time of delivery, and the milk might sit on the porch for a few hours and spoil. An answer to this dilemma was a porch milk box. Usually insulated and made of aluminum, these small containers were a “go-between”: customers would leave the empty milk containers in the box along with payment, and the full containers were deposited by the milk delivery service.

Milk Bottles and Porch Milk Box
Milk Bottles and Porch Milk Box

Alan Bufford vividly remembers the thumping of the milk box lid at his house every morning far earlier than he would care to be awake. He said he learned to abhor that sound, shuddering at the mere thought of it. When the milk box was brought into the exhibit, he insisted I shut the lid, which I did. “No, it has to be harder than that,” he insisted. I slapped the lid down. “Yes,” he grinned, “that is the sound of nostalgia.”

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