The Carnation Milk Products Co. condensery in Monroe. (Monroe Historical Society)

The Carnation Milk Products Co. condensery in Monroe. (Monroe Historical Society)

Old-time Monroe was a condensed-milk powerhouse

A sprawling plant that once operated on the east side of town wasn’t exactly condensed.

MONROE — The day the milkman arrived, Monroe delivered.

He answered to the name of L.R. Hardenbergh, represented the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company and looked to conduct some business.

The year was 1908, January to be exact, and the booming enterprise was searching for a location to build a seventh plant to produce its popular new product — Carnation condensed milk.

Within days, community leaders had conducted a “cow canvas” of the area to assure enough nearby milk could be supplied for the proposed operation.

Within months, chamber of commerce types assembled several parcels at a cost of $6,000 for a factory site, which they donated to the company.

Within the year, the sprawling plant opened, boasting a main building, large stockroom, powerhouse with room for six boilers, a 50,000-gallon wooden storage tank and a metal steam stack rising 60 feet high. Soon the operation was producing thousands of red and white cans of condensed milk, enough to ship 26 train-car loads a month. An expansion the following year added a second matching steam stack.

About 1919, the two metal stacks were replaced with a single 150-foot-tall concrete stack.

A decade later, the factory closed.

In early 1942, another group bought the dormant plant to process flax, declared a strategic material for the war effort.

At 1 a.m. on March 23, 1944, just three weeks after starting operations, spontaneous combustion is suspected of igniting 600 tons of flax stored in the building. By dawn, the site was a smoldering heap. All that remained was the concrete stack.

Deemed too difficult and risky to demolish, it was left standing. Today, the local landmark towers over a strip mall parking lot near the intersection of U.S. 2 and E. Main St. in east Monroe.

(Compiled from HistoryLink.org and the Monroe Historical Society and Museum)

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