Miller Dairy Farms


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John and Rebecca Miller came to Michigan in 1867 from New York, purchasing 80 acres in Lansing Twp. of Ingham County. In 1873 he sold his property to the City of Lansing to be used for the Mt. Hope Cemetery and purchased a 116 acre farm on Plains Rd. Their son, Dennis, with his wife, Mary Edith Fowler Miller, continued to farm until 1896 when they began making ice-cream. After initially cranking the churns by hand, a treadmill utilizing calves was added. As demand increased, a steam engine fired by a gasoline burner was introduced. In 1907, electric motors were installed. The 111-acre farm grew into a business with 14 farms, 1,300 acres, 500 Holstein cows, and modern equipment. In 1936 Miller built his own power Plant in Smithville, which supplied electricity to 40 neighboring farms and houses as well as the factory. During the 1960’s 22 Miller stores and 200 independent dealers in Michigan and Indiana carried the brand. Miller’s offered novelty flavors, like dill pickle. Its menus reflected the times. A 1969 Man-on-the-Moon menu featured a Sea of Tranquility Float and Apollo 11 Sundae.

Miller Dairy Ice Cream Parlor

Miller Dairy Ice Cream Parlor – Photo Courtesy Deb Malewski

In 1886, the Miller Farm Dairy started freezing ice cream, hand cranking each gallon and making bicycle deliveries into town. Quickly, they grew into the largest independent producer, manufacturer and retailer of ice cream in the United States, making Eaton Rapids the “Ice Cream Capital of the World.” The Ice Cream Parlor located on Main Street at Mill Street is now closed. It is being converted to a restaurant.

Miller Dairy Barn

Miller Dairy Barn – Photo Courtesy Deb Malewski

 

There is now an ice cream parlor at the Miller Farm that is open Friday 3-8 pm, Saturday 3-8 pm and Sunday 1-5 pm.  MSU Dairy Ice Cream is served as Miller Ice Cream is no longer made.  The ice cream factory has been converted to museums, and the entire property has been made into a historic village, with the 1864 Miller House, the barn (one of the longest of its kind in the state), a one room school, blacksmith shop, Plains Church, the Jean Kline Building (which holds a vintage photo studio, a general store, a beauty parlor, a barber shop, a print shop, an undertaker’s business and a Horner Woolen Display). Tours are available by appointment.  The site is owned and operated by the Eaton Rapids Area Historical Society.

Miller House

Miller House built in 1864 – Photo Courtesy Deb Malewski

In 1896, seeking to find a more profitable use for their milk which was selling for 2 cents a quart, Dennis and Minnie Miller started producing ice cream at their farm on State Street.  That first year they produced 165 gallons of ice cream, cranking each gallon by hand, and delivering it by bicycle to merchants downtown.  By the 1950s they were producing 6000 gallons of ice cream a year and were shipping it all around Michigan and our neighboring states.  The original 111 acre farm grew to 13 farms in Ingham and Eaton counties, covering 1,300 acres and supporting a dairy herd of 500 registered Holstein Friesian cows.  Miller Dairy grew into the largest independent producer-manufacturer-retailer of its kind in the US, and was powered by its own hydroelectric plant at Smithville.

Dennis Miller was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for eating a pint of his own ice cream every day for 53 years.