Issaquah’s Dairy History

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The dairy industry has played a prominent role in the rich history of Issaquah, Washington.

For over one hundred years, many local dairies have churned butter, canned produce and sold milk, cheese and ice in the Seattle area.

Currently, the most productive and important dairy in Issaquah is a branch of the Darigold Dairy, a cooperative organization that’s one of the largest American dairies and produces millions of gallons of milk annually.

It is interesting to note, however, that Darigold’s Issaquah branch produces all Darigold products EXCEPT for milk.

The Darigold Plant

Issaquah’s largest dairy became a Darigold plant in the 1960s, when it was almost 50 years old.

Founded in 1918 as the Issaquah Creamery, the dairy quickly became a crucial part of the area’s economy and for several decades had more employees than any other business in and around Issaquah.

Today, it produces the bulk of the yogurt and all the butter (120 million pounds per year) sold by Darigold. The plant also produces 20 million pounds each of sour cream and cottage cheese, and 175,000 pounds of condensed sweet cream every week.

Immortalizing History: The Front Street Mural

The importance of Issaquah’s dairy industry is evidenced by a 130-foot mural on Front Street, near the entrance to the Darigold plant; Darigold also helped fund the painting and has promised to cover maintenance expenses for ten years. However, the mural is officially owned by the city. There’s very nice profile in The Issaquah Press of one of the artists that provides insights on the mural.

Issaquah’s mural is a visual history of the local dairy culture; its centerpiece, Pickering Farm, is no longer a functioning creamery but remains an important regional landmark.

The huge red barn featured so prominently on the Front Street mural is now used for many concerts and other public events; on Saturdays in May-October, it hosts the Issaquah Farmer’s Market.

Pickering Barn is also one of the most popular locations for weddings and other large events in Issaquah and surrounding towns.

George Washington Tibbetts

Pickering Farm – in fact, all of Issaquah – became a major dairy hub thanks to a restless entrepreneur named George Washington Tibbetts.

Tibbetts was a native of Maine who traveled west after fighting in the Civil War. When he (and his wife Rebecca, whom he’d met and married along the way) arrived in Issaquah, they lived for a time on the estate of William Pickering.

Tibbetts had a hand in many areas of local life; he was the local Postmaster, owned a hotel and a ranch, and enthusiastically welcomed the loggers who arrived in 1903 because the land they cleared was prime grazing turf for cows.

Before long, he’d entered the dairy industry; Pickering Farm dairy opened in 1909, with most of the work done in the huge red barn immortalized on the modern Front Street mural.

Tibbetts soon began canning and shipping milk to Seattle; his first shipment – one can – soon became hundreds of cans delivered daily. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dairy isn’t merely an industry in Issaquah; it’s a way of life.

Residents take great pride in the city’s reputation as one of the United States’ most important dairy production hubs. Darigold gives back to the community by dispatching large teams of volunteers to fairs, parades and other community events.

Related Articles:

Issaquah in History

Issaquah Mining History

Issaquah Lumbering Roots

Issaquah’s Dairy Industry

Issaquah’s Modern Era

About Jim Clark

Jim Clark is a 20+ year resident of Issaquah and a specialist in Issaquah real estate, including residential, multi-family land and commercial. His real estate firm is called Issaquah 360. He can be reached at jim@issaquah360.com or 425-274-8558. You can learn more about him or follow him on Google+ or Twitter.