The local press stated “Notwithstanding the hard times, failures and war rumors, our dairymen are hurrying forward their produce.” The streets of Little Falls were crowded with wagons as farmers shipped 1087 boxes of cheese weighing 70,503 pounds at the depot. Farmers and buyers made their bargains along South Ann Street by the bank building.
First U.S. Cheese Market Exhibit
Little Falls Cheese Market Historical Timeline
May 22, 1861
May 18, 1864
Prices at the market – Butter 45 cents a pound, Cheese 20 cents, Lard 30 cents, Eggs 40 cents a dozen, and Potatoes 63 cents a bushel.
April 12, 1866
An effort is being made locally to raise funds to send an agent to England to report upon the process of manufacturing and marketing cheese, the probable effect of the cattle plague, and other matters pertaining to the dairying interests in the state.
June 15, 1869
Edward Evans purchased the old American House hotel and the Evans House became the headquarters of the Cheese Market.
January 15, 1875
Mr. J.A. Woolever, freight agent at Little Falls, reported that 5,653,118 pounds of cheese was shipped by rail from Little Falls during 1874. He indicated this total did not include large numbers of cheese sent by boat during this same period. 12 million pounds was shipped from Herkimer, Fulton, Montgomery, and Otsego counties valued at $1,740,000.
June 1, 1876
Around this date, Chr. Hansen’s Laboratories of Copenhagen, Denmark, the world’s premier manufacturer of rennet used in the production of cheese, along with coloring for cheese and butter, established a factory in Little Falls under the management of Mr. J. D. Frederiksen.
December 12, 1881
Little Falls continued to hold the foremost place as a cheese market. During the year 15,181,500 pounds of factory cheese was sold here at an average price of 0.108933 cents per pound. The value was $1,653,184.17. This is solid money paid to our dairymen creating a great degree of prosperity. In addition a large quantity of dairy cheese was sold.
October 27, 1882
Xerxes A. Willard, the man responsible in making Little Falls the “cheese capitol of the nation,” has died. He abandoned law as a career, became a farmer and was editor of the Herkimer County Journal, as well being an author on various phases of cheese making which became standards in the industry. He developed the method for establishing cheese prices and transmitting that information instantly across the country.
July 27, 1885
Farmers who were selling their cheese on Albany Street were ordered off the street by Sheriff Abbott after a couple of residents claimed their teams were a nuisance. After the sellers threatened to go to Utica, better accommodations were found for them on Bridge Street.
June 1, 1895
D. H. Burrell & Company of Little Falls made three shipments of cheese making apparatus to New Zealand. Over the past two years New Zealand and Australia have become formidable competitors in butter and cheese markets in Europe.
July 30, 1901
Whether it was the increase in the price paid for cheese, great weather, a bumper hay crop, or something else, the farmers had big night in town. The stores as well as the saloons did a large business. There were many fights and nineteen arrests were made, thirteen by policeman James “Dusty” Long.
May 1, 1916
The Stacey Company Cheese ceased operations when the executives foresaw the decline of Herkimer County as the center of the cheese trade, and the building space was taken over by the Little Falls Felt Shoe Company which had been founded in 1905. Irving E. Stacey is president of both companies.
February 18, 1926
J. D. Frederiksen, cheese industry icon, inventor, author and manager of the Chr. Hansen Laboratories in Little Falls, died in Florida. Born and educated in Denmark, Mr. Frederiksen came to Little Falls in 1879. Very active in the community, he helped establish the Pine Crest tuberculosis sanatorium in Salisbury. He will be buried in Church Street Cemetery.
October 7, 1948
A month prior to the presidential election, hundreds waited in the rain as President Harry S Truman made a “whistle stop” here. He attacked the “do-nothing” 80th Congress, and extolled the virtue of Herkimer County cheese. Truman defeated Dewey.
May 3, 1974
Felix Frederiksen , Little Falls native and son of the famous cheese expert Johan Frederiksen, died at age 81. Encouraged by his father, he started a cheese-making business in the city on East Monroe Street, and eventually moved to Minnesota where he became the first to commercially produce blue cheese.
Little Falls: Cheese Capital of the World by Diane Ptak
During one episode of “Seinfeld,” George goes on and on about how his life could not be more perfect.
He is at home, relaxing in his shorts and eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery. There is even a legend that the moon is made of cheese. Most of us would agree that life is better with cheese — no matter what the occasion. We welcome you to the fourth annual Little Falls Cheese Festival, and invite you to sample, indulge and enjoy cheese from 120-plus vendors; however, we feel compelled to caution you against copying George and eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery. In addition to cheese, please save room for our other agricultural products at the festival including garlic and dried tomatoes, and be sure to visit the artisan exhibits as well. While you indulge, it is worth considering Little Falls in the heyday of the movement of cheese.
Sheltered in a deep curved gorge along the main transportation route across New York, Little Falls became a manufacturing leader in the latter half of the 19th century.
The picturesque village was famous for its Herkimer County cheese throughout the United States and England. In 1860, nearly 11 million pounds of cheese were sold and shipped out of Little Falls. If bars of cheese were lined up side by side, they would have nearly reached from Little Falls to Albany and back! By 1871, that production grew more than six times to 68 million pounds, including exports to England.
For years, the dairy farmers of the Mohawk Valley either sold their cheese door-to-door or by word of mouth, or they might engage a cheese dealer who would visit each farm, negotiate the price and possibly advance a token amount of payment. Some dealers were fair, but others developed a reputation of being less than honest. Many buyers found it easier to meet the cheese vendors in town and then take tastings. Soon, Little Falls became the center of the cheese market. Beginning in 1861, Little Falls had an open air Monday market at the intersection of South Ann and Albany streets.
With the Industrial Revolution steaming ahead, the big cheese players gathered at the Evans House, across from the railroad depot, for the first meeting of the New York State Dairymen’s Board of Trade meeting on July 10, 1871.
Their primary purpose was to support the dairy farmers, and to determine the best methods to move their Herkimer County (mainly cheddar) cheese from the farmers to the buyers, while maintaining its freshness and taste.
The Evans family had purchased what would be the Evans House in 1869. The famous opera singer, Jenny Lind, was said to have performed there in 1851 and President-elect Abraham Lincoln had greeted the crowds on a brief railroad whistle stop in Little Falls in 1861. Following President Lincoln’s assassination, residents lined the tracks to pay their respects as Lincoln’s casket passed through the village on it way home to Illinois.
Having immigrated to the Mohawk Valley in 1848 from humble origins in Wales, William and Jane Evans and their son, Edward, had arrived in Little Falls in 1856. In the Evans’ rural hometown, artisans and farmers would bring their wares to the Tudor timber-framed Old Market Hall on Mondays. Area residents gathered to socialize and with a few shillings, buy or barter for cheese, butter, merino wool and vegetables. When in Little Falls, the Evans family envisioned that, by collaborating with prominent members of the agricultural community, the newspapers and the New York City dairy dealers, Little Falls could become the market town for the dairy farmers of the Mohawk Valley and later serve as a model for other New York communities.
NYS Dairymen’s Board of Trade meetings were held in the elegantly appointed ballroom of the Evans House. In 1871, a telegraph line was already strung from the Evans House to the nearby railroad depot. The Dairymen’s Board of Trade had a trading board in the ballroom only open to members. Upon arrival each cheese vendor would post their volume of cheese available for sale. The Evans’ telegraph link with New York City (and Europe) allowed for on-time market cheese per pound prices and volumes to be displayed on the board. This included the price of cheese in New York City, as well as at markets in London and Liverpool, England.
By working together, Mohawk Valley dairy farmers had leverage when negotiating with powerful New York City and Philadelphia cheese dealers.
Dealers’ practices of buying cheese on credit and offering cheese prices significantly below market price would now be exposed! The only surviving panoramic photograph of the first New York State Dairymen’s Board of Trade meeting in 1871 captured the excitement of it all. Center stage stood 33-year-old Edward W. Evans, shaded under his bowler hat. With perfect posture he was a mere 5-feet 4-inches. Others surrounded him standing tall, with dealers in top hats on the elevated landing of the Evans House; his parents and wife, watching from second story windows. Additionally, hundreds of Mohawk Valley cheese producers had gathered, some with their cheese delivery wagons, for this historic moment. They were there to recognize a new era in cheese marketing.
That day was a grand new beginning when the cheese world would look to Little Falls, a village of only 4,818 in 1860. Little Falls was shipping millions of pounds of cheese yearly. The collaborative efforts of the Evans’ and Mohawk Valley dairymen/women had catapulted Little Falls to the Cheese Capital of the World.
Diane Ptak is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society. This article was abstracted from a book to be published by the author next year. The proprietor of the Evans House, 1869-1908, Edward W. Evans, was the author’s great grandfather. The hotel, at 332 S. Ann St., was on the site of the present day Travelodge hotel.