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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Participation in and evolution of dairy farming in North Carolina

Hill talks about his endeavors in agriculture. In addition to becoming a pillar of the business community in the Durham area, Hill presided over a huge dairy farm for most of his adult life. Here, he describes his dairy farm, centered around his estate called Quail Roost, how and where he sold his milk, and his eventual decision to get out of farming. His comments are revealing of the ways in which dairy farming changed over the course of the twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Did the dairy go to North Carolina State?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
No. I started the dairy back in '25 or '26, when I came back. That's when I had three titted cows from my father. I went to State College and spent three months studying the damn things, in Washington in the Department of Agriculture. I came out with purebred Gurnsey cattle. We started and slowly built it up. I had a manager, one of the top men in the country. He had been the Golden Gurnsey salesman for the American Gurnsey Cattle Club. I went on the Board of Cattle Club and served a good many years. That was in Petersborough, New Hampshire. I built the damn office building that they've got, among other things, in passing.
JAMES LEUTZE:
What was the object of the dairy?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
I was bottling milk and selling it in Durham. Chapel Hill didn't amount to a hill of beans in those days. I bought the Long Meadow Dairy from Y.E. Smith in East Durham, then bought the Pet Milk Company Plant in Durham on James Street. East Durham burned up so we moved every damn thing, fortunately, to Durham. One thing after another, it's grown into a tremendous operation.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Was there really money in the dairy side, or was it more in the breeding side, or were you doing it more for fun?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Both. All three. It was the best use of Quail Roost. It was eighteen hundred acres. I have given to State College School of Forestry some two thousand acres on the east, all along Flat River, on the east of the farm. It's still there. They built a great big log building and took a lot of World War Two buildings and made shops and dining rooms and so forth. It's a very interesting thing. I got State to build a bridge over the Flat River. It fell down and they rebuilt it. We had at Quail Roost an honest to god farm, an operating farm. I had twenty-five people living on the place and working on the farm, and slowly it just disintegrated from a cost standpoint. I ended up with the outstanding Gurnsey herd in the United States for the last five years of its operation. Thurman Chatham, in Elkin, Chatham Manufacturing; A.L. Brown, Kannapolis of Cannon Mills; I got Bowman Gray into the picture; we had a real operation. We'd have a sale at various and sundry places - four or five times at Quail Roost itself - an auction sale. They'd bring the cattle in the day before and folks from all over the United States would come in. I sold a cow for seventeen thousand, five hundred dollars, and she became the grand champion Gurnsey cow in the United States. Somebody else bought her; I forget now who it was. I got the prize money. [Laughter] I bought a bull for seventy-five hundred dollars in South Carolina and my father said, "It's a shame, money comes, money goes." I sold over six hundred thousand dollars worth of his progeny. [Interruption]
JAMES LEUTZE:
We're talking about Quail Roost Farm at this point.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
The quantity of milk given, and the butter fat would be 4.5 to 4.9, whereas Jersey milk was a little richer, 5.2 or something like that. That was the famous rich-man's-milk. The Holstein was about 2.5 or 2.9 They used Gurnsey milk at the milk plant to bring the Holstein milk up to the 3 percent, which was the minimum fat permitted by the state. Using my milk. [Laughter] My father eventually kept his Gurnsey cows and had a barn where Crosdale Club is now. He had a thirty stanchion barn, and he had another one known as Crowsdale further over. He was in the farming business. He bought fifteen hundred, eighteen hundred acres, all in the west part of Durham, and turned it over to my sister Frances and she lives on beyond that. It was a lot of fun. I used to ride horseback all over the farm back in the early days. I don't have time now.
JAMES LEUTZE:
So you moved in the 1960s to this house?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Early sixties.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Did you give up your interest in farming, and did you miss it?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Yeah, about eight or nine years ago. We couldn't get the labor. People didn't want to work, to get up at three o'clock in the morning to milk, and milk twice a day with milking machines. They didn't want to work.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Do you miss being actively involved in farming?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
No, it just was. Hell, my sister did the same thing. She sold out her herd about three or four years ago. I was two or three years ahead of her. She still has her Black Angus cows up on the farm, but the day of individual dairies is almost gone. I don't know where we're going to get the milk from. Big plants and . . . I don't know. People are not going to buy Golden Gurnsey milk any more. It's too rich.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Too rich and too expensive, too.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
We sold it as a special milk at a higher price, and we sold it.