The Borden Condensery History  1891-1920
Historical Society of Shawangunk & Gardiner - Harold Van Aken


March 2, 2022 – The Historical Society of Shawangunk & Gardiner was invited to the Town of Montgomery Preservation Association for a presentation of a proposal to restore the Borden Condensery on Route 208 between Wallkill and Walden. The plan is for a Restaurant, Winery, 30-room Hotel and 6 suites for longer term rental. The project will be built by the same company that restored the Montgomery Mills facility, “City Winery”, in Montgomery as well as 12 other “City Winery” locations. It will be called “The Milk Factory” and include a Borden Museum with the History of the Borden Home Farm and Condensery.

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Borden Condensery Route 208 – Fire had destroyed the 2nd floor and much of the inside in 1997

Proposed Restaurant, Hotel, Winery and Borden Museum

The full article from the Wallkill Valley Times can be read here


The Walden Citizen Herald Newspaperp published articles in the 1970's about the history of the Borden Condensery twritten by Frank Mentz
The Wallkill Library published the collection of articles in a book "Shawangunk Hearths - Recollections of an Old Timer Frank Mentz" The book is available from the Historical Society of Shawangunk ans Gardiner
 Articles about the history of the Borden Condensery that are the recollection of Frank Mentz and published in the 1970’s by the Walden Citizen Herald “The Shawangunk Hearths” published by the Wallkill Public Library

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This picture was taken in the 1890’s and I use it for a special reason. As you will see later, in the other stories, you will see pictures of the complete plant, which is in two sections, east and west.

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Description automatically generated with medium confidenceJohn G. Borden came to Wallkill in 1881 and built this factory in 1881-1884 on the east side of Route 208 in Orange County about one mile south of Wallkill.
The entire factory is made of brick – brick that was made in Walden on East Main Street where Wooster Grove is now.

I use this the picture for the first story because there are some interesting things in this picture that you will not see in the photographs that follow. 

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Description automatically generatedFirst, there is a 100-foot-high brick smokestack which was taken down when the General Slicing Company bought the factory in the 1950's.   

Second, you will notice on the right side of the picture, the beautiful water fountain and two of the flower stands. The fountain stood on a beautiful lawn and when the fountain was in action, it was a very lovely sight to see. There was an identical water fountain on the Home Farm.

Finally, it is summertime for the windows and doors stand open.

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This picture only shows about three-quarters of the factory, facing route 208. There is much more of it on the left and right side of the portion shown
In future stories, the entire factory, which faces Route 208, will be shown; also, the buildings that are in the rear of structure. The buildings that are in the rear of structure are divided by a railroad siding.
The entire process of manufacture of Condensed Milk will be explained as it took place in the different buildings, as well as the part of the process which was accomplished in each one.
I believe the subject, The Vacuum, will be of profound interest to the readers of these stories, students as well as adults.



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Description automatically generatedSometime in the 1870’s, Gail Borden, father of John G. Borden, invented and perfected the process of making condensed milk.
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(It has been written that Gail Borden’s invention was motivated by conditions he found on board a ship on which he sailed to Europe from Texas in about the early 1800’s. He found that a cow had been stanchioned in the hold of the vessel so that sailors could be given a daily portion of milk necessary to their rations of food during the then month-long and longer days at sea. Borden determined there must be an easier, more convenient way to preserve and condense bulk milk. Thus was the beginning of a dream that was to find its way into production along the banks of the Wallkill River after the Borden Family migrated to New York from their native State of Texas.)

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Description automatically generatedA pilot plant was set up in Wassaic, New York, at that time the Borden’s hometown, and with the help of Fairbank’s capital, the experiments proved successful. In 1881, John G. Borden, the inventor’s son, came to Wallkill and started the production plant. The process of making condensed milk was known as The Vacuum Process.

In 1900, I was a student I the Walden High School and in the summer vacation period, Nelson Smith gave me a job in the factory. He was the Superintendent and he had also been Principal of the Wallkill school. In school, I was studying such subjects a English, physics, algebra and history. Here, in this Borden factory, I had a chance t see the Vacuum process at work.

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Description automatically generatedObserve the far end of the picture. One-half of that building is the boiler room where six high pressure boilers were operating. These boilers were manned by three workers, and they were fired by pea coal. Let me say right here that it took real men to fire these boilers with hard coal, because once you get a “cold” hole in a hard coal fire under a high-pressure boiler, you are in real trouble because if you are not very careful, you could spoil a great deal of milk – condensed milk. Old Hank Warner, who was in charge of these boilers, and his son Bert, along with old Hank Aley, just never did get into trouble.

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Description automatically generatedIn the back end of the boiler room there was a small space where Chris Denely had a little shop. Here, he reshaped hand solder irons and tinned them

In that same building, where you see the lone window, there was the milk receiving station. Here, the milk inspector would take the lid off a 40-quart can and smell of it. If it had an unusual smell, such a wild onion, the milk was rejected and turned back to the farmer. He would take it back home and feed it to his pigs.

The milk was then dumped into a tank which sat on a scale and there it was weighed. Milk was sold by weight at that time and not by the quart. The milk cans were washed and sterilized and returned to the farmer and he was on his way home. The milk went from the receiving room by pipeline to the preheating and sugar mixing room. In this room, there were three large preheating tanks made of copper and they had copper steam coils running around the inside of the tanks about three feet from the bottom. Here, the milk was preheated to a temperature of 160 degrees and held at that temperature for a certain length of time.

The milk was then pumped to the sugar mixing tank where about 500quarts of milk were mixed and stirred with one-half barrel of granulated sugar.

From this point, the milk was pumped to the second story room you see in the 1st picture, just beyond the twin towers. This room was known as the Vacuum Pan Room, and in it, the subject in the science of physics begins and ends, very successfully.


Description automatically generatedThe Vacuum Pan was really a large copper boiler and was shaped like an egg. (The same theory is in operation today). The boiler is mounted in a frame and stands perpendicular. There were two of them in this room. Inside of these Vacuum Pans, there were copper steam coils running around the inside of the pan and copper pipes ran to the vacuum pumps in the engine room, which was in the next room on the ground floor. On the top side of these pans there was a manhole sized glass plate, big enough so that a man cold crawl through it, and this they did, when they cleaned the pans.

This, then, is where the subject of physics comes into the picture. Every student that studies this subject should know that when you reduce the atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch on a liquid inside an airtight container, you reduce the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiling pint you will get will depend on the number of inches of vacuum you create. I do not remember the number of inches used to make condensed milk – but I think about ten, because that is about what I use on my vacuum steam heating system in my home.

At this point we go on to the making of condensed milk. The milk has been pumped from the sugar mixing room downstairs to the vacuum pan and it will be at a certain level in the pan. You then put on the glass man-hole plate and bolt it down tight. You are now supposed to have an airtight vacuum pan. If you have not, you will soon know it, for next thing you will do is notify the engine room to start the vacuum pumps. If your vacuum gauge Vintage Marsh Instrument Company Vacuum Guage Steampunk 0-30 image 1 does not respond immediately, you now that it is not airtight and you have to move fast to make it so. When everything is in order, you turn on the stem and vacuum pumps and the milk begins to boil, as near as I can remember, at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vacuum pumps held the vacuum at 10 inches, and it also took the water vapor off. The time clock played its part in this operation, but it was not foolproof, because there were too many variables in the operation. This made it necessary for the Vacuum Pan operator to stand by the glass manhole and keep a close watch of the procedure. It required a man with good eyesight and sound judgement. When he figured that the milk emulsion was of the right consistency, which was a little heavier that molasses, he broke the vacuum and shut off the steam

These Vacuum Pan operators usually wound up their careers in the milk business by being superintendents for the Borden Milk Company factories throughout the United States and Canada

Now you have the condense milk, "white" hot in the vacuum Pan, and I am to leave you there until next week when I will tell the rest of the story which will be concerned with “The Shipping Box.”

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The above picture was taken in the early 1890’s, and it shows the New York City personnel of the Borden Company at that time. For many years, the Bordens brought these men to Wallkill by a special train which pulled into their railroad siding about 9 a.m. in the morning. It was a day of inspection of the plant; it was also a day of plenty of eats served with milk. There was even a band and baseball team. I might add that they usually got beat when they played the Wallkill team.


Description automatically generatedThis picture shows the office, part of the milk receiving station, part of the preheating room on the ground floor where sugar was added to the milk and part of the vacuum pan room on the top floor. Right here is where I left you in last week’s story and left the “white” hot condensed milk in the vacuum pan. We are now going to take that condensed milk to the final operation of packing it in wooden boxing for shipment.

We take you back now, to the preheating and sugar mixing room which is shown on the left side of the picture on the ground floor and under the vacuum pan room. In the preheating room there was a large square water tank about three feet deep and it had pedestals in it that revolved. The water in the tank was about two feet deep.


The milk was let down from the vacuum pan through a copper pipe into 40-quart milk cans. These cans were put into the tank on the pedestals, and they revolved around. Then, crushed ice was put into the tank and the milk was cooled until it was just warm.

From this point, the 40-quart cans were put on a flat car and rolled into the sealing room to the hand operated can-filling machine. The 40-quart milk cans were dumped into this machine, and we are now ready to put the condensed milk into the little cans. These little cans had about one and one-eighth-inch holes in the top of them. The operator of this machine put the cans under spouts on the machine and filled the cans to the correct level.

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Description automatically generatedThe next operation was sealing these cans and it was done by girls who were real experts. The cans of milk were set on little trays and the girls took these trays to their benches where they had a tray of tin caps a little larger that the hole in the top of the can. They also had a charcoal furnace on their bench, a soldering iron, a bar of solder and a dish of resin.

Now here we go to seal a can of condensed milk. First, the hole in the can had a recess around it which was a little lower than the rest of the top, and the tin cap that they had to seal in, set in flush with the tip of the can. The girl would sprinkle a little resin around the cap, take the bar of solder to hold the cap down, then take the soldering iron and, with a little solder off the bar, make one swipe around the cap and the can was sealed. She then put in cold storage.

The Borden company produced four brands of condensed milk at the Wallkill plant, eagle, Magnolia, Rooster and Winner. But there was no difference in the quality of the milk. The only difference was the label, and price differential between the band. Eagle brand brought top price. When they got an order for any one of these brands, they could bring the canned milk out of cold storage and run the cans through the label machine for whatever label the order called.

The cans were then repacked in the wooden boxes and the lid nailed on. The wooden boxes were made in the room next to the cold storage room.

Many times, I would go into homes outside of Wallkill where babies were being raised on condensed milk. I would always ask the mother what brand of condensed milk she was using. The reply would always be, “Eagle Brand Borden’s Condensed Milk, it’s the best.” I’d always tell the mother to go out and get any brand of Borden’s Condensed Milk and it will be the same as Eagle brand. “I know, I work there and I know you will save money,” I’d say. But they just wouldn’t believe it.

Now you know how condensed mild was made in the 1890’s. Today no doubt it is automatically and electronically controlled, but the basic principle remains the same.

Next week, I will tell you how Condensed Milk cans were made by hand in those years. (Article written February 1971



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Description automatically generatedIn today’s chapter, I am showing you a picture of some of the key employees of the Borden Condensed Milk Company. This picture was taken in front of the main office of the plant in the early 1900’s. All the men in white uniforms, and some of those in dark suits, were key men in the manufacturing process; all the ladies shown were also especially talented. I am quite sure that I knew every one of these men and women; but today, I cannot identify all of them. Let me point to the ones that I can.

Top row, fourth man from left, Grant Dick, second row, Jacob Master, Selah Williams, Bert Warner, John Jansen. I do not recall the names of the fifth and sixth men in the second row, but the next five are: David McElhanney, Henry Warner, Harry Robertson, Matthew Dunn and Ben Ackert. The last man in the second row is unknown to me at the present time.

Third from left to right, in front row – first man, unknown; the next seven are Nathan Van Wagenen, Ella Phinney and in back of Miss Phinney, Jesse Terwilliger, Mary Ronk, Levi Broadhead, Minnie Green and Mina Williams.

In last week’s story, I told you I would tell you how condensed milk tin cans were made in the 1890’s and by hand.

Well, here we go:

First, the tin plates were shipped into the factory in squares because they had to be absolutely flat.

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Description automatically generatedThese tin plates were then put on a slitting machine and the can bodies were slit to the correct size in length and width. When I say the correct length and width, I mean the tolerance was only one-thousandth of an inch and there were many reasons for this close tolerance. First, if it was too long, or too wide, it would buckle in the can body die and if it was too short, on the other hand, solder would not get inside the can body.

Old vintage metal press machine isolated over white background Old vintage metal press machine isolated over white background. Antique Stock PhotoThe next operation involved the preparing of the material for a condensed milk can and the making of the round top and bottom. In the picture, we refer you again to the two girls in the first row, Minne Green and Mina William, seventh and eighth from left. They were the press operators, one for the can top, the other for the bottom. Their stamping machines had to operate at the close tolerance of one-thousandth of an inch, or if too tight the bottom or top would not go on; if too loose, it would fall off. The bottoms and tops were put on the can body by hand.

Ware now ready to put that condensed milk can together and this operation was all done by girls. Each girl had a bench, and on that bench, there was a charcoal furnace, a soldering iron, a bar of solder and a pan of resin; also a foot-operated die which was the exact size of the inside of the can body to a tolerance of one-thousandth of an inch. A girl put the sheet of body tin under the die, then pushed her foot down on the foot treadle. This caused two concaved wings on the die to come up and press the tin tight to the die. These wings also left a space open so the can could be soldered. Next came a little sprinkle of resin, a bar of solder and a hot soldering iron. One wipe with the soldering iron and the can body was made. She then released the die wings with her foot, pulled the can off the Antique Soldering Iron Tinsmith Vintage Roofing Soldering Copper Tinsmith  Tools | eBaydie and threw it in a rolling rate. The crates were rolled to the top and bottom bench at both sides of a conveyor. The tops and bottoms had a one-sixteenth of an inch flange, and the girls could snap them on the can body as quickly as you could wink your eye, The cans were put on the conveyor and carried through a liquid solder tank at an angle of about 45 degrees so that the solder would not smear the can body. The solder had to be kept at a precise level.

From this point, they conveyed to the vacuum testing wheel for leaks. A picture containing clock, time

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The vacuum wheel had pipe spokes and each spoke had a rubber pad on the end of it in which there was a hole. The operator of this machine would place the hole in the can over the hole in the pad, If it leaked, it fell off into a crate and would be sent back to the liquid solder tanks. If the can stayed on the wheel, it was knocked off at one-half the turn of the wheel and automatically fell into a crate. It was then sent on its way to the sealing room.




Condensed Milk Can Assembly Room – Wallkill Condensery

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This is how tin milk cans were made in the 1890’s.

Next week, I’ll tell you about what went on in the rear of the building at the old Borden Condensed Milk Plant, a significant part of the scheme of things in this manufacturing of condensed milk 80 years ago and one seldom viewed by the public eye. (Article written February 1971.)



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Description automatically generated with low confidenceIn this final story of how condensed milk was processed at the old Borden Condensed Milk plant on Route 208 at Wallkill, the picture I chose shows the rear, or east line of buildings at the plant. These buildings are separated from the front complex by a railroad siding. The distance between the two structures is about 25 feet.

The first building (with the three side windows, foreground) was divided into three rooms. The first room was the machine shop where two master craftsmen, Albert Marcy and Fred Ovens, worked making dies and tools for the factory and also for all the Borden’s factories. I say master craftsmen, and of I mean just that, because on some of the dies, they had to work to a tolerance of one ten-thousandth of an inch. These dies were designed for the paper caps which were used on the fluid milk bottles.

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Description automatically generated When I was a little boy, I used to peddle the Utica Saturday Globe through the factory, and I recall that Al Marcy used to take one of my papers which cost a nickel. Al had “shaking palsy” and he could not take a nickel out of his pocket. I had to do it for him, but once he got his hands on the controls of a latheshaper milling machine, or a grinder, he was as steady as the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar. Free Ovens later became superintendent of Borden’s tool and die shop at Endicott. Anyone reading these stories who has handled a Staretts micrometer will know what I mean when I say one ten-thousandth of an inch.

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Description automatically generated The next room in this plant was for barreled sugar. The last room was the   refrigeration   plant, which furnished refrigeration all over the factory. It was an ammonia type of refrigeration and I the room were a steam engine, compressors, and ammonia tanks.

The next two buildings you see  near the tower is where fluid milk was bottled and butter and casein were made. Casein is made by mixing skim milk with some type of acid which curdles the milk. When dried, it was ground into a power and was used to make a cold-water glue.

Milk Cart. A horse drawn milk cart (Photos Framed, Prints, Puzzles,  Posters,...) #12021288 The first building of the two near the tower was used to bottle fluid mild. The milk was received just as it was on the     condensed milk side of the factory, but not preheated. It flowed into big tanks to await the process of bottling. Let me say right here that these bottles were really washed, and they were absolutely clean.

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Description automatically generated with medium confidenceWe go now to bottle fluid milk for the people of New York City. First, there was a long table in this building (center) about 50 feet long and about three feet wide and there was a sort of miniature railroad track high about the bottle on each side of the table. On this track was a kind of miniature milk car. On the car was milk spout to cover every bottle along the width of the table. The operator of the milk car would push the car over a row of bottles, pull the lever and fill the row of bottles. Behind him was another man with an apron full of paper caps with which he capped the bottles.

The bottles were then put into wooden cates. A shovel full of crushed ice (which had been gathered during the winter from the Wallkill River and lakes and ponds on the Borden Estate was put on top of the bottles and the crates were moved into a railroad milk car for shipment to the City of New York. Two carloads of bottled milk left the plant every day at 4:40 p.m.

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Description automatically generated with medium confidence This will be the last story on the Borden’s Condensed Milk Company, and I hope you have enjoyed it, but there is one last thing in the picture that I would like you to note. There is a tower down at the far end of the picture. This was a water tower. The factory used a great quantity of water each day and it was necessary to have a lake, which was located about half a mile east of the tower. The tower was connected to the lake by a 16-inch wood pipe which ran partly on top of the ground and partly under the ground to the tower. Before it went underground, the railroad took a tap off it to supply their water tower which was in turn used to supply their steam engines.

Bootlegging High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - AlamyIn the 1920’s, during the Prohibition days, bootleggers acquired these buildings and turned them into a whiskey distillery. About 2,000 gallons of whiskey was made a day and they got away with it for over a year before the U.S. Internal Revenue men raided them.

 They had first class police protection all the way to New Your City, and everybody knew it!

Finally, two different stock firms tried to operate the plant, and both failed. First, the David Dunbar Buick Company which got kicked out of the Buick Motor Company by General Motors; and the Fiber Cooperage Company, which lasted only for a brief period.

The plant is now owned and operated by the General Slicing Machine Company. (Article written February 1971)

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After extensive searching for information on the Borden Condensery on Route 208 between Wallkill and Walden, a series of Sanborn Maps were found
on the Library of Congress website that shows the layout of the Condensery building, railroad tracks and water lines as well as the function of each building.
The map is 1885 which was one year


 1885 Map of Borden Condensery on Rt. 208 between Wallkill and Walden

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1.     The upper left is an icehouse that was used to store ice cut from the Wallkill River or the Factory Pond. The ice was covered with a foot of sawdust and would last until the next Winter. The ice was used to keep fresh milk cold until it reached New York City each day at 4:30 in the afternoon by train.

2.     Wallkill Valley Railroad – A siding splits off the main line and runs between the two buildings. It splits into another siding so cars can be left on the track for loading and unloading leaving the other siding open.

3.     A stub comes from the main line and ends in the coal bins under a trestle.

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4.     The first building on the left (C) was the boiler room where there were 6 boilers fired by pea coal. The entire plant ran on steam power from the boiler room piped to a steam engine where the power was needed.

5.     The machine shop (J) was an addition to the boiler room and a 125-foot chimney used by all boilers.

6.     The next building (D) was the receiving room where the Borden horse and milk wagons were unloaded with their 40-quart milk cans and dumped into large tanks. The milk was heated to 165 degrees to kill bacteria and then was pumped to either Cooling and bottling fresh milk or condensed milk

7.     Fresh milk is cooled and pumped to the bottling building (L) where glass bottles were filed, put in wooden crates and covered with ice.

8.      Milk for condensing was pumped to the 2nd floor (E) and filled one of the vacuum pans. The pan was sealed, and the vacuum pumps started. The temperature was maintained at 165 degrees and when the pressure dropped 10 pounds the milk boiled the water off. 

9.     Steam engines powered the vacuum pumps in building (F) and dropped the pressure to 10 pounds inside the vacuum pans causing the milk to boil off the water and become concentrated about the consistency of honey.

10. When the condensed milk reached a consistency of honey, Sugar was added to help preserve and it was pumped to the sealing room (G) where Sterilized tin cans were filled with the condensed milk and the lid was soldered in pace sealing the can.

11. The finished cans were stored in (H) until a shipment was needed and then they were loaded into box cars sitting on the siding.

12. At 4:30 every day 2 milk cars were loaded with the fresh bottled milk and sent to New York City for delivery the next morning

13. The tin cans were fabricated (M) from sheet metal and soldered together leaving a small hole to fill with condensed milk

14. Wooden boxes for fresh milk and condensed milk were constructed in (I)

15. Lighting before electricity was generated by a Carbide gas generation plant away from the building since, they sometimes blew up or caught fire

16. A 28-inch wooden flume came from the Factory Pond and drove 2 water turbines to run the vacuum pumps. These would be replaced with steam engines or electric in later years

1913 Map of Condensery 



For more information

Contact: Harold Van Aken
Phone: 845-857-4057