LSU Rural Life Museum tells local story with milk bottles | Entertainment/Life

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LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s 295-piece milk bottle collection represents local dairies that once operated throughout Louisiana. They were donated by Andy Reaux.  

Most of the names on the milk bottles no longer exist.

D’Arbonne Dairy in Homer, Mansford Dairy in Tallulah, Rutherford Dairy in Lake Arthur and all of those dairies in Iberia Parish that once were clients of Andy Reaux’s dad.

A sampling of LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s new collection of milk bottle from Louisiana dairies. The collection has 295 glass milk bottles in all. Staff video by Robin Miller

The elder Reaux was the local veterinarian who attended to the health of Iberia Parish’s dairy cows.

“You know, in 1947, there were 150 dairies in Iberia Parish,” Reaux said. “That was a big part of my dad’s business.”

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Curator Katherine Fresina shows a gallon-sized glass jug once distributed by Kleinpeter Farms Dairy in Baton Rouge. The jug is part of a newly acquired Louisiana dairy milk bottle collection.

Reaux, who lives near Spanish Lake, also became a veterinarian, and for years he collected milk bottles from these dairies, topping out at some 295 bottles, which were displayed in a specially made cabinet in his home. They represent not only dairies but a time in history when private dairies were plentiful in Louisiana.

Reaux recently donated his collection to LSU’s Rural Life Museum, 4560 Essen Lane, which is still in the process of unpacking them for display.

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Donor Andy Reaux speculates that New Orleans’ Charity Hospital didn’t have its own dairy but contracted milk from local dairies, which bottled it in quart bottles bearing the hospital’s name. 

“Some of them are going to go in our permanent collection,” museum Director Bill Stark said. “We’re evaluating them now. Then some of them are going to be used in our historic structures for staging.”

As for Reaux, he has no regrets. He knew the Rural Life Museum would be the perfect home for this collection, which not only stands as a testament to the state’s agricultural history but also its people and communities.

Some of the communities printed on the glass bottles no longer exist, having been absorbed by bigger cities. In other cases, the community is still there, but the dairies that produced its milk aren’t.

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Out of his collection of 295 Louisiana dairy milk bottles, Andy Reaux spent the most time searching for the bottle from Rutherford Dairy in Lake Arthur.

Most of the bottles are round. Those are the most valuable among collectors.

Yes, milk bottle collecting is a serious thing, so much so that when Reaux was searching for his “holy grail” of Louisiana bottles, he had to trade one of his own bottles for it with a Vermont collector.

The bottle? It was one that once held milk for Rutherford Dairy in Lake Arthur.

“So, there were three books on collectible milk bottles that had all the milk bottles from each state that were known. And there was a listing from Lake Arthur, Louisiana, for Rutherford’s Dairy.”

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Milk bottles donated by Andy Reaux to LSU’s Rural Life Museum come in all sizes. Pictured here, the smallest was used to hold cream in restaurants. The pint size ones were served to schoolkids at lunch, and the quart size were delivered to homes.  

The listing included a photo of the bottle, so Reaux knew everything about it — including the font for the letters.

“I went to Lake Arthur, and I ran ads in the paper,” he said. “I talked to the oldest people there. I actually talked to a grandson of the dairy who said he hadn’t seen one of the bottles in years. He used to deliver them with his dad.”

Speaking of which, milk delivery is yet another page in this chapter of Louisiana history. Bottles in this collection were delivered to front doors by a milkman, which were returned to him for reuse.

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LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s milk bottle collection includes the only three known bottles from LSU’s early 20th century creamery.

The smaller bottles among the 295 were served to schoolkids.

All were topped by cardboard labels with the dairies’ names, also which are highly collectible.

But Reaux wasn’t searching for a Rutherford Dairy label during his 15-year search. He wanted only the bottle.

“So 10, 15 years go by,” he said. “Every now and then I would go to Lake Arthur, and I’d put an ad in the paper. I really want this bottle, and I was talking to milk bottle collectors all over the United States trying to see who had it. I never could find anything.”

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Baton Rouge’s Kleinpeter Farms Dairy once distributed its milk in glass jugs and bottles. These are among the 295 milk bottles donated to LSU’s Rural Life Museum by Andy Reaux. 

Then, one day about 10 years ago, Reaux did a random search online, and suddenly, a photo of the Rutherford bottle popped up.

“The bottle belonged to an old collector that had got it years before, and he had it in his collection,” Reaux said. “One of the big things among collectors is to collect bottles from 50 states. The collector had died, and his grandson put all the milk bottles online to show that this was his grandpa’s collection, that they did it together. He loved his grandpa.”

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Glass milk bottles in the LSU Rural Life Museum’s collection represent bygone local dairies from throughout Louisiana. 

Reaux immediately made contact, explaining that he’d been searching forever for the Rutherford Dairy bottle. 

“I told him I could send him one of my bottles as a trade, because it really didn’t matter which bottle he had from Louisiana, he just needed one,” Reaux said. “I had more than one of some of the bottles, so I sent him one of those with some extra money, and he sent me the Rutherford Dairy bottle.”

That round, quart-sized bottle, emblazoned in red letters, stands on a table in the Rural Life Museum where Curator Katherine Fresina sorts and catalogs the collection.

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Andy Reaux, who lives in the Spanish Lake community of Iberia Parish, donated 295 glass milk bottles to LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s permanent collection. The museum will exhibit the bottles in its main building and throughout its grounds.  

Others include such bygone dairies as Bar-D-Ranch of Ragley, Residence of Houma, Charley Boudreaux of Abbeville, A. Prescott of Alexandria, Theriot’s and Shamrock, both of Lafayette, Hillside of Independence, C.A. Stewart’s of Bogalusa and Monroe Milk Station of Monroe.

That’s not forgetting Baton Rouge’s Kleinpeter Dairy, which is still going strong. It’s represented by quart and gallon-sized jugs imprinted in red and blue.

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Glass milk bottles in LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s collection represent local dairies from throughout Louisiana. Many of the dairies no longer exist.

They’re shaped more in the spirit of today’s plastic milk cartons, meaning their value isn’t as high as the round bottles.

Then there are the rarest of the rare — even more so than the Rutherford bottle. The first is a milk bottle bearing New Orleans’ Charity Hospital’s name.

Reaux speculates that the hospital didn’t necessarily operate its own dairy but contracted out its milk supply with local dairies, which delivered it in the Charity bottles.

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Local dairies topped their milk bottles with cardboard imprinted with their logos. 

Second are three pint-sized bottles marked with “LSU Creamery, Baton Rouge” in raised letters.

“Those are the only three known milk bottles from LSU unless someone else has one that hasn’t surfaced,” Reaux said. “They’re probably from the 1910s or 1920s. In fact, the professors from LSU’s Dairy Science Department called me about them, probably 20 years ago. They found out I had them, and they drove over from Baton Rouge just to see them.”

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Local dairies topped their milk bottles with cardboard circles imprinted with their logos. 

By that time, Reaux was well into his collection, which began with three New Iberia dairy bottles that once belonged to his great-grandmother. She died, and Reaux and his dad were cleaning out her house when Reaux happened upon them.

He used them as vases in his own home but became more curious after buying a Franklin dairy bottle.

“I had four then, so that was a collection, right?” Reaux said.

The collection grew and kept growing even after Reaux retired from his veterinary practice 10 years ago. He also was collecting valuable Louisiana historical documents, along with other state artifacts, which was fun.

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Glass milk bottles in LSU’s Rural Life Museum’s collection represent local dairies from throughout Louisiana. Many of the dairies no longer exist.

“But the fun is in the collecting,” he said. “There came a point when I realized no one in my family would be interested in me handing these things down to them, so I’ve begun selling some things and donating others. It’s just time for other people to enjoy them.”

For Stark and the Rural Life Museum, the bottles add to the story of Louisiana’s rural history in a way that brings the state’s small communities together.

“We brought in an old food truck from New Orleans, and we started telling the story of how locally sourced our food used to be,” Stark said. “And all of these milk bottles have the locations printed on them of where the milk came from. They’re not just different dairies — they pull in together how close you once were to that dairy and that herd that was providing your milk. Your people and your community were providing your food, and it’s not so much like that anymore. That’s the story these bottles tell.”

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