The Creamery was “the place” to stop in Manteca for generations of Bay Area travelers going to and from the Sierra on weekends.
It was back in the days when Highway 120 ran through downtown Manteca on Yosemite Avenue crossing Highway 99 at a blinking red light on the current-day alignment of Main Street.
From 1938 to 1948, the Creamery made as much as 1,500 gallons of ice cream per day to meet the weekend demand.
It stood where a Mexican restaurant does today in a building that was Manteca’s original Kentucky Fried Chicken location prior to becoming Athen’s Burger in the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue. The nearby mural— “Cow-munity” — was chosen for the location due to the key role the dairy industry played in helping Manteca grow.
It was built in 1896 as a way for Manteca area dairy farmers to get their milk to the lucrative San Francisco market. The stop on the Southern Pacific tracks was initially called “Cowell Station” after Joshua Cowell.
Cowell had walked over the Sierra from the Carson Valley arriving here in January of 1863. He bought the ranch that would eventually encompass almost all that is known today as central Manteca.
In the truest sense, the Creamery is the one thing that got Manteca going as a town as it was the community’s first building except for scattered farms.
The initial skimming station operated as a dairy cooperative where whole milk was separated in what was nothing more than an old railroad freight car. The milk that wasn’t shipped was sold at the back door to housewives although most not sent to the Bay Area went to farms where it fed hogs and calves.
The advent of surface water from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District 109 years ago increased the alfalfa acreage each year at such a rapid pace that by 1920 dairies were the largest industry in the South County. There were 8,000 South County cows in 1923 in the South County producing 25,000 gallons of milk daily.
Floyd Richards and Roy Olson in the 1930s purchased the Creamery. They constructed an ice cream parlor on the front of the building. It quickly became a favorite spot for families to gather during warm summer evenings.
In 1938 the Creamery produced 395,000 pounds of butter that year and wrapped 1,800 pounds a day. The ice cream freezing room turned out 10 gallons every six minutes.
World War II saw a sharp increase in butter to help supply the troops.
The Creamery stopped butter production shortly after World War II ended but continued to make ice cream.
“Maneto Brand” was adopted as the Creamery’s trade name on such products ice cream, home-made syrups, buttermilk and butter.
Ice cream flavors varied with the seasonal availability of fruits, berries and nuts. The one thing that was consistent was the use of heavy cream that provides a smooth 14 percent fat content.
For decades the Creamery was also a favorite after-school hang-out for Manteca High students.
The Creamery closed its doors in December of 1965.
It was torn down early the next year to make way for a gas station and then eventually a KFC restaurant.