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The Powder Springs Cheese Factory

1982 interview with Ted Leake by Patti Briel:

Cotton had been the main money crop for the farmers of the area, but the arrival of the boll weevil soon put a stop to growing cotton. The farmers were hard hit with little or no money. They had to find some other means of livelihood.

The Georgia Agricultural Extension Services came to the assistance of the farmers and helped them to establish a Cheese Factory Cooperation in the region. In 1921, Powder Springs had 15 investors to put up $100 each to establish the Co-op. With the capital investment of $1,500 the factory was then opened in with E. R. (Ted) Leake accepting the position of operator and manager. The Cheese Factory was located in a four room house on Anderson Street directly behind the Southern Depot.

Member farmers, or their wives, would deliver 5 to 10 gallons of milk early each morning to be weighed and dumped into a large, double boiler style vat. The milk was then heated and chemically treated to curdle it.

Whey, a biproduct of the cheese was separated and used by the farmers to feed their hogs. The butterfat was processed and the hardened cheese was cut into rectangular pieces and placed in a 6 inch by 18 inch hoop press. After being in the press for 24 hours, the hoops of cheese were then coated with hot paraffin and left to cure.

Mr. Leake remembers eating strips of cheese that were ready for the hoop presses like it was candy.

Mr. Leake remembers some problems he had with the cheese. One is very vivid in his mind because it earned him a nickname. One day he had a cheese that looked real good, but they began to swell and swelled up as large as a watermelon. He did not know what to do so he got on the train and went to Rockmart to ask the Agricultural Extension Agent who had set up the cheese factory, what had happened and what could he do about it. Mr. Mollett told him what his problem was and how to remedy it. Mr. Leake took the next train back to Powder Springs and “fixed” his swollen cheese.

Some of the boys heard about the swollen cheese and promptly dubbed Ted Leake “The Big Cheese”, thus giving him the nickname that he was thereafter known for many years!

The Cheese Factory did well for a time. It was capable of producing 8 to 10 cheeses per day.
The cheese was sold to wholesalers in Atlanta and to local merchants, who sold it in their stores like Mr. Lovinggood’s. It gave the farmers who produced the milk some money each month as opposed to only once a year when their cotton was sold.

Even soldiers returning on furlough from World War I had heard of the cheese factory. Some were surprised at the modest operation.

Mr. Leake had a steam whistle and any leftover steam in the boilers at the end of the day was used to blow the whistle just like a large factory. This practice was not particularly popular with some of the residents.

The Cheese Factory was successful for a time. Unfortunately, when the Georgia Cheese Factories began to make an impact on the southeastern market, the major cheese manufactures in Wisconsin began to lower their prices drastically to create competition and the Co-ops like the one in Powder Springs were unable to compete with them.

As the cheese market dwindled, Mr. Leake resigned as manager and operator of the Cheese Factory. A Mr.Westbrooks and other members of the Co-op took over, but were unable to keep the factory going. They had to close the factory in 1923. After the Wisconsin cheese makers succeeded in putting the Georgia Co-ops out of business, they raised their prices.

“Moonlighting” with the Big Cheese

1982 interview with Ted Leake by Patti Briel

At the same time the “Big Cheese” was operating the Cheese Factory he was doing some of the first “Moonlighting” in Powder Springs. Mr. Leake said he didn’t know it was ‘moonlighting”
until many years later. He was holding down two jobs. Mr. Leake was also the chief electrician for the battery powered Delco Light System that served the electric power needs in Powder Springs. He went to the Cheese Factory around 5:00 am and was usually through there by noon. He then went to his job at the Delco Light System.

Harry Miller was operating the Delco Light System and had been doing it all by himself. Keeping
the plant going, making all repairs and looking after the finances. He approached Mr. Leake and asked him if he would work in the afternoons and early evenings. So, Mr. Leake took the job as the Chief Electrician for the battery powered Delco Light System. Mr. Leake thought the system was owned by stockholders and the city.

To supply the electrical demands of the town, two generators powered a bank of Delco Batteries, which were charged during the afternoon to furnish the power for the street lights, businesses and homes at night. No electrical appliances were allowed, which was not a problem because these appliances were virtually non-existent at the time. Electric lights were also limited.

There were no meters. Citizens were charged a flat fee according to the number of rooms in their houses. The bigger the house, the more they had to pay.

Kerosene was used in the motors and in 1922 and 1923 it cost from eight to ten cents a gallon. The engines were high speed and the biggest problem was keeping good spark plugs or the engines burned out quickly.

The control battery was on one end in a big glass container with a big white ball in it. When the batteries were fully or sufficiently charged, the white ball would rise to the top. When the battery was getting low, it sank to the bottom. The exhaust pipe went into an old dry well outside the building. The well was kept covered with planks. Sometimes the fumes collected in the well and a spark would start a fire. Buckets were kept under the eaves to catch rainwater which were then used when needed to douse the fire.

In the middle twenties the delco equipment was wearing out and would need to be replaced. However, it would be expensive to do so. By this time, the Georgia Power Company had come to Austell. The Power Company approached the city of Powder Springs about buying the Delco System and obtaining a franchise. The City thought it would be a wise Move and so they agreed. By 1928, The Georgia Power Company was supplying the electrical power for Powder Springs.

The Delco Electrical System was located in a building on the left side of what is now Pineview Drive, just off Marietta Street, behind the old city hall, before getting to Jackson Way and the Baptist Cemetery. At one time, Mr. Leake also had a grocery store next door. There were several other businesses on this street in the early days of the town.

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