Researcher highlights Marin’s historic Portuguese dairies
Michael Moyle of the IDESST Sausalito Portuguese Cultural Center has compiled historical information about local Portuguese dairy ranches. The former Lopes dairy, background, is near the Tennessee Valley trailhead. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
By Mark Prado, Marin Independent Journal
Laura and Manuel Lopes and their family were the last proprietors of the Tennessee Valley dairy. The ranch, known as the the Miwok Livery Stables, operated from 1886 to 1966. (Courtesy of Diana Lopes Antonucci)
Michael Moyle of the IDESST Sausalito Portuguese Cultural Center will discuss his research on local Portuguese dairies at 6:30 p.m. April 23 in San Rafael. The event will be held at the county library annex at 1600 Los Gamos Drive, Suite 182.
The overlooked history of numerous Portuguese dairies that dotted the landscape of southern Marin is finally coming to the fore thanks to new research.
Michael Moyle, chairman of the history committee of the IDESST Sausalito Portuguese Cultural Center, said the research helps tell the story of the population and an industry that has long disappeared in the area.
“The value is simply understanding the history of the area we live in,” said Moyle, who has been researching the dairies since 2014. “I have always felt the Portuguese population was a bit devalued and its history underreported. They were very significant in Sausalito’s history.”
The research — focusing primarily on the period between 1880 and 1950 — is being noted on a Facebook page available at bit.ly/2GZwGE9.
The first Portuguese came to Sausalito from New England on whaling ships. They stopped in Sausalito’s Whaler’s Cove for fresh water and timber for repairs, Moyle said.
There was a tradition of dairy farming in the Azores, so when the Gold Rush presented the opportunity to supply dairy products to a rapidly expanding market in San Francisco, Azoreans stepped in to fill that demand.
“The dairies were all owned or operated by Portuguese immigrants, all from the Azores and the majority from the island of São Jorge,” Moyle said. “In many cases the individuals operating the dairies were just lessees — they owned the cows and equipment, but not the real estate.”
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Transportation development between 1868 and 1875 provided an opportunity to provide fresh milk and butter in a timely manner. The changes included a ferry line from San Francisco to Sausalito, the Sausalito to Bolinas wagon road and Marin rail lines.
More than 40 Portuguese dairies have been documented, mostly through interviews with family and electronic archives.
Few of the physical structures remain. Most have been torn down or ravaged by the elements and time. Of those that remain, the Miwok Livery Stables in the Tennessee Valley is one of the more visible, along with the Golden Gate Dairy across from the entrance to Muir Beach.
“I came to the conclusion, after initial skepticism, that they are significant properties,” said Elizabeth McKee, a Tamalpais Valley historian who has worked on the project. “They are substantial and represent the history of Azorean immigrants.”
The Miwok Livery Stable was one of four dairies in the area and operated from 1886 to 1966, last by the Lopes family. The unoccupied Lopes home is still on site.
“When you got out to Point Reyes you ran into more of the Swiss-Italians dairies, but it was Portuguese here,” said Moyle as he walked the Miwok Livery Stables grounds last week.
The Golden Gate Dairy is now also used for equestrian activities. The Ocean Riders of Marin, which use the buildings, hope to include a Portuguese Dairy Interpretive Center in the historic barn in the future, Moyle said.
“A lot schools are now on the sites of former dairies as well,” Moyle said. “Hilarita over in Tiburon, where the Reed School is, is an old dairy site. These were convenient open spots where people could build a school.”
The Frank Valley near Muir Woods also had a number of dairies.
Just as progress helped propel the dairies, it also doomed them. With the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, better refrigeration and industrialization of the dairy industry, it was easier to transport goods from around the county and into San Francisco. The dairies lost their competitive advantage and began to shut down, Moyle noted.
“Health regulations also increased and that required more money to operate,” Moyle said. “These were very small dairies and they couldn’t afford to keep up.”
McKee agrees that the Portuguese dairies have never been recognized, but she hopes the research changes that.
“Some groups, like the Portuguese, have never got their due for their significant role in farming in Southern Marin and it’s important to acknowledge it,” she said. “It’s been a great project and has given me the joy of talking to a lot of really nice people and about their families.”