The history of dairy farms and milkmen in South Portland has always intrigued me. Even before joining our historical society about 18 years ago, I had started my own collection of South Portland milk bottles and had researched 75 different milkmen and dairies who had worked in our community over the years. I’m sure the actual number is far greater than that.

A John Burney milk bottle is preserved in the collections of South Portland Historical Society. South Portland Historical Society photo

I’ve written in the past about the Dyke dairy farm that used to exist on Westbrook Street in Thornton Heights. The Country Gardens neighborhood is built on the site of the former fields of Ted Dyke’s farm. Ted’s son, Bob Dyke, is a friend of mine and has been one of the top milk bottle collectors in the state of Maine. Much of the milk bottle collection at the South Portland Historical Society has come from Bob. Back in 2011, he went through his collection and very generously donated 12 bottles that we didn’t previously have – all of which were from South Portland dairies and milkmen.

While some of those bottles were from dairies that were fairly easy to research, some have proven more difficult. John Burney is one of those tough-to-nail-down milkmen. After many years of looking into him, we still have never found any photograph of him or his farm. I hope that sharing what we know in this column might help us to connect with a descendant who might still have photos or other information to share.

John Burney was born in Nova Scotia in 1859 and immigrated to the United States in 1880. He married Susan P. Summers in Stroudwater in 1884 and they had three children: son John M., born in 1885; son Almon, born in 1888; and a daughter, Cora, born in 1887 but who died at 5 months old.

Just after John and Susie’s son John was born in July of 1885, John took his son on a trip that ended up recorded in history. The Cape Elizabeth ferry had been in service for many years, but a brand-new ferry boat had begun operating. The Cornelia H. was the first double-ended ferry put into service on that line. According to records at the South Portland Historical Society, John Burney and his son took a trip to Portland in a two-wheeled gig, becoming the first team (of horses) to ever make the trip on the Cornelia H.

John Burney was the first person to take a team across on the Cornelia H when the double-ended ferry was put into service between Cape Elizabeth (South Portland) and Portland in 1885. South Portland Historical Society photo

Besides a John Burney milk bottle that is held in the collections of South Portland Historical Society, there is not much else left to document the life of this milkman. An article in the Portland Daily Press on Jan. 14, 1896, recorded one incident: “A team belonging to John Burney, the milk man, was upset last Saturday at Cash’s Corner. The occupants were thrown out, but no one was hurt.”

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Sometime in the early 1900s, John Burney would end his days as a milkman and went into the business of selling sand and gravel.

For most of their years, John and Susie lived and raised their family at 1571 Broadway, although the house had a 431 Brown St. address when they lived there (Brown Street was later renamed and renumbered).

They transferred ownership of the home in 1924 to their son John, and John and Susie moved across the street to 1576 Broadway. We also know that the Burneys owned land in the vicinity of where Wescott Road now lies, as it appears that some of their land was taken by the city in order to create that street.

Cows in the field behind the Dawson farm at 455 Brown St. (now 1587 Broadway), circa 1912. Charles A. Dawson was John Burney’s next-door neighbor. The farmers undoubtedly knew each other well. South Portland Historical Society photo

We would love to learn more about the milkman, John Burney. If anyone has any family photographs or other information to share about him, we would love to hear from you. The South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at [email protected], or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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