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Dairy farming mo-oves away from area

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HIGH POINT — Martha Clegg cried that day in 1998 when the last herd of cows was hauled away from the once lucrative dairy farming area along the N.C. 68 corridor in north High Point.

“It was like a part of history was passing by. Dairy farming had been such an important part of my life,’’ said Clegg, 71, who milked cows on her father’s farm from the time she was a small girl. Even after she went to work in a department store, she drove home along roads bordering green pastures where cows were plentiful.

All those dairy farms are gone now — gone from an area where dairying was the No. 1 business for more than a half century. Replacing the cows are thousands of new homeowners whose sprawling residential development is nestled in among commercial businesses, business parks, shopping centers and retirement homes. In addition to the 8,000 people who settled there during the 1990s, an additional 4,200 new residents are projected there through 2010, said High Point planning director Lee Burnette.

That last herd of cows belonged to Clegg’s brother, Edward Williard, 76, who was in the dairy business for more than 50 years. “I held out as long as I could, but I finally sold — I was the last one,’’ said Williard. “It got so you couldn’t make anything (money) at it, and it was an awful lot of work.’’

There once were as many as 20 dairy farms in the area, many passed from one generation to another. The naming of roads there — Gallimore Dairy Road, Clinard Farms Road, Morris Farm Road and Dairy Point — are testament to farming, particularly dairy farming, that once drove the economy in that area.

For Lake Williard, 77, whose late husband was a cousin to Edward Williard, the demise of farming — followed by the rapid residential and commercial growth there, has made the north High Point area an epicenter of the Triad.

“I grew up hearing how one day High Point, Greensboro and Winston-Salem would be like one big city. I think it has happened at the intersection of N.C. 68 and Clinard Farms Road, said Lake Williard, whose family exited the dairy business in 1988.

High Point’s Transportation Department has plans to widen Clinard Farms Road to four lanes and make it an extension of Piedmont Parkway. No timetable has been established for that project, Burnette said. “When that road is finished, it will become a very important economic route,’’ he said.

The decline of dairy farming in the area started in the late 1960s and took a big hit in 1988, the year that Lake Williard’s husband, Horace, and sons Kendall and DeVane decided to auction off their family’s milk cows and dairy equipment. The J.H. Williard Dairy had been in business since 1952, using mostly leased land.

Another major deal came in 1978 when Opal Jordan, 86, sold 91 acres of dairy land. Among the businesses on that land today are Panera Bread Co. at N.C. 68 and Penny Road and part of the area where Premier Business Center now sits. That sale meant that her sons Colon and Larry Jordan had lost the milking jobs they had had since they were 4 or 5 years old.

“I was too little to sit on a stool; I had to stand up and milk,’’ said Colon Jordan, 68, and a rural mail carrier. “It was seven days a week of hard work.”

Colon Jordan and his brother were milking 85 cows a day until their mother sold the land. His mother still owns 17 acres of land and the homeplace, and Jordan still has horses there.

“My brother and I are pleased that mother sold when she did so she could enjoy herself,’’ Jordan said. But he and his dozen saddle horses already are feeling the squeeze on the two acres he owns.

Dairy farming was a way of life along the N.C. 68 corridor north of High Point as farmers sold their milk and by-products door-to-door.

Many also sold milk to one of the many High Point commercial milk processing plants that started springing up in the early 1900s.

Dairying became so prosperous in the area that many tobacco farmers turned to dairying, said Colon Jordan. Some continued with other crops, but found dairying highly profitable when processing companies in High Point had big demands for their milk.

Hilda Clinard, 88, of Clinard Farms Road said her husband, Jacob, was a dairyman when he worked for his father, Ed Clinard. Jacob Clinard, who died in 2001 at age 93, not only helped his father on the farm but made door-to-door deliveries of their milk and butter in High Point and surrounding areas.

High Point officials have imposed zoning restrictions that dictate what can be built on the former farm land, Burnette said. The city has planned development of the adjoining areas that it will take into the city during the next several years, he said.

These annexations will be on a voluntary basis as developers request city utilities and other services.

Selling off the grazing lands has brought prosperity to some farmers, especially those growing old and whose children weren’t interested in keeping the farms going, said Sandra Powell, Hilda Clinard’s daughter.

Edward Williard, who still lives on the land where his father, E.L. Williard, milked hundreds of cows by hand, still has two empty silos that once were filled with corn to feed the cows on his Maple Grove Farm on Willard Dairy Road. He and his son-in-law, B.G. Marshall, are partners in growing crops they sell for horse food.

By the time Edward Williard closed his dairying operation, he was milking 60 cows every day with automatic milking machines.

“I was getting to an age where I was tired of working 14 hours a day,’’ he said.

Williard now owns 80 acres, having sold off some 200 acres through the years. A large, up-scale housing development is next door to his home, across from his silos and farm buildings.

Even High Point’s once-plentiful milk processing plants are gone, except for Harris Teeter’s Hunter Farms on North Main Street and Winn-Dixie’s Superbrand Dairies on West Fairfield Road.

Clegg misses those farms, with the cows grazing and the horses roaming the pastures.

“It is sad that the pretty farm land is being destroyed and houses and apartments being built. Sometimes, you feel like you are being smothered. They call it ‘progress,’ but I’m not sure that it is.’’

Colon Jordan shares her sentiments, but he much prefers riding his rural mail route to milking cows and cleaning out stalls.

Contact Bob Burchette at 883-4422, Ext. 234, or bburchette@news-record.com

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