For those of us that grew up in Atlanta, you'll love this article I found this morning about Mathis Dairy. I've talked about the Dairy a lot on my Blog in the past, especially the memories of milking Rosebud. besides taking the Dairy Tour each year as a field trip with my class, we used to have family reunions and church picnics on the grounds. I remember swimming in the lake there, too! What a trip down memory lane! Even if you didn't grow up here, I think you'll enjoy the article. FYI-- Mathis Dairy is now the home of Wonderland Gardens-- a place where you can go to pick vegetables off of the vine year round! I think it's a cool concept, and I'm glad to see that the Dairy pastures are still flourishing! Enjoy:
In 1916, a sixteen-year-old Stewart County Georgia farmer name R.L. Mathis came for a visit to Dekalb County to visit his uncle's farm. During the visit, he milked cows while working on the farm. He returned home to Stewart County with the understanding that he did not like milking cows. During an annual work trip to pick fruit in Florida, a gentlemen he worked with told R.L. Mathis that he was "too good not work to work for himself and he would not get ahead in this world working for somebody else." Upon returning to Stewart County from the Florida trip, R.L. received a phone call from his uncle about purchasing the farm in Dekalb County. At this time, all of property was zoned for dairies and there were between 200 and 300 dairies in Dekalb County. In 1917, R. L. Mathis purchased 75 acres of property and 12 milk cows that would later become Mathis Diary for $8k for 7% interest. The uncle sold R.L. Mathis the property based upon his reputation as an honest hard worker and his need to support his mother and two sisters after the death of his father. As the only business in the immediate area, the Dekalb County Commissioners has asked R. L. Mathis if he wanted name the portion of dirt road, Wesley Chapel Road, led to the rolling meadow pastureland. R. L. Mathis chose the name Rainbow Drive.
Over time, R. L. Mathis acquired more land until the Mathis family owned nearly 150 acres along Rainbow Drive in South Dekalb county. Mathis dairy became one of the most well known dairies in the southeast. A portion of the property that later became Exchange park was donated by the Mathis family to Dekalb County. Nearly 72 years later after starting with 12 cows, the remaining twenty acres of undeveloped meadowlands and pastureland of a functioning dairy was sold in 1989 and Mathis Dairy moved from the Rainbow Drive location. Later, the lake and pine woods visited by thousands by the entire metropolitan area community were subdivided and lost to a subdivision. At its' height, the waiting list for organizations and groups to have a picnic on the lake and pastureland was sixty days. Though a subdivision stands on the land where the lake once existed, Wonderland will be adding a pond and wishing well to complement the current pastureland for picnics and community events. In spring, 1995, the Mathis Dairy building and its remaining twenty undeveloped acres were sold to Kelly Jordan. Mr. Jordan began looking for partners who would help create and realize his dream of preserving a natural environment and green space. Today, a collaborative effort between Dekalb County Government, Soap stone Center for the Arts, and Wonderland Gardens is focused on bringing together the gardens and the arts to create a unique South Dekalb destination for metro Atlanta.
The Early Days
In the early days, the closest telephones to the dairy only came as close as Glenwood Road. The telephone lines were installed because of the Honor Farm location, a federal penitentiary where Perimeter College currently stands on Panthersville Road in Decatur Georgia. The dairy provided customers a number for a lady who lived on Glenwood Road to call to place dairy orders. At the end of the day, a Mathis employee would make a horseback ride from the diary to the Glenwood Road house to gather the milk orders for the following morning. R.L. Mathis would bottle the milk and deliver the orders himself. Eventually, the telephone pole installation was extended to Candler Road. R.L. Mathis put up his own poles and ran the wires from the diary to Candler Road to provide phone service to the dairy.
In 1952, J.J. Wade, the Mathis Diary herdsman, provided the first dairy tour to satisfy Boy Scout merit badge need to visit a dairy. To the surprise of the Scouts, J.J. Wade added milking a cow to their visit. As the need developed, Bob Mathis, the oldest Mathis brother, began providing dairy tours. At the end of a tour, a visitor would receive an "I Milked Rosebud" button and a bottle of milk. The popularity of the tours grew and multiple hourly tours were provided to accommodate the more than 250 daily diary visitors. Mathis Dairy expanded to provide a petting zoo and picnic areas were added for visitors.
For the initial seven to eight years of the dairy tours, the cow did not have name. In 1960, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution decided to write a story on the dairy. A follow-up call from the reporter to Bob Mathis to ask for the cow's name presented a problem as the cow had not been formerly named. At the very moment the reporter asked the question, the middle Mathis brother, Pat and his fraternity brother nicknamed Rosebud, enter the office. The rest is history as generations of school children and families fondly remember visiting the diary and milking Rosebud. As Rosebud's popularity grew, she participated in charitable events, was milked by politicians (including Former President Jimmy Carter) and celebrities, and made special appearances in locations such as the Georgia State Capitol, Stone Mountain, Merchandise Mart, and Alan Fund's Candid Camera. Rosebud has the distinction of the first cow to be on top of Stone Mountain and the Merchandise Mart.
One of R.L. Mathis's goals was to meet the standards to produce certified milk. Certified milk is the highest quality milk produced in the United States. In 1928, Mathis Dairies met those standards. Mathis continued to maintain the Certified Milk Standards, to the extent that in the 1970's Mathis Dairies was one of three remaining dairies in the United States to meet those standards.
Under the leadership of Jack Mathis, R.L.'s youngest son, Mathis Dairies herd of Holstein bulls and cows were sold internationally. The quality of milk was again raised as one of the top ten in the United States. International visitors from around the world visited Mathis Dairies to learn how they could produce Mathis Quality Milk.