Gleanings from the Corn Flats: The Shopmyer dairy business

Categories: Saratoga County

Editor’s Note: “Gleanings from the Corn Flats,” written by members of the Niskayuna Historical Committee, examines town history. The feature runs the first weekend of the month in “Your Niskayuna.”

Not far from the Niskayuna town soccer fields, on the east side of our beautiful bike path, the remains of a dairy farm — the Shopmyer Brothers Dairy — lie hidden among trees, brush, and brambles. It may have been the last working dairy farm in Niskayuna.

Forty years ago, the prominent local historian, Larry Hart, asked his readers for information about the location of Shopmyer’s Dairy and was initially puzzled by the variety of answers. Eventually, he discovered the problem: “There were too many Shopmyers, all dairy farmers in the area.”

The proliferation of Shopmyer farms and dairies began in the mid-19th century with Christian Shopmyer. I have uncovered several resources about Christian and his family, but none as helpful as those provided by his great-great granddaughter and Niskayuna resident, Suzy Shopmyer Sogoian. Her assistance was invaluable.

Christian was born in Germany in 1826, came to America in 1861 and eventually found his way to Niskayuna where he purchased a farm at the heart of the town from the Carpenter family.  The Carpenter farmhouse was built in 1835 and still stands at the foot of Story Avenue; it was also the first home of Shopmyer’s Dairy. 

Christian sold the 140-acre farm in 1906 to W. Garner Bee; it became the foundation for the Grand Boulevard Plot, which is today commonly called “Old Niskayuna.” Ruth Shopmyer’s written recollections of family history says that Grand Boulevard was originally intended to be called “Shopmyer Boulevard” but “Grandfather Benjamin wouldn’t have it that way.”

One of Christian’s sons, Aaron Shopmyer, had a dairy farm on Van Antwerp Road near River Road, which also operated as Shopmyer’s Diary Farm. Around 1925, his son Robert A. Shopmyer took over the business, which was renamed R.A. Shopmyer Diary.  According to Ruth Shopmyer’s reminiscences, the barn on Aaron and Robert’s farm, parts of which may date to 1820, later became the home of Assemblyman Clark Wemple.

Shopmyer dairies were not only in Niskayuna. A second of Christian’s sons, William, established a dairy farm on Droms Road in Clifton Park. William’s son Edgar established his own milk route, which delivered raw milk from area farms to dairies in Schenectady. Additionally, a third of Christian’s sons, John, had a farm in Rotterdam along Hamburg Street.  

Finally, we come to the two grandsons of Christian, James and Ray Shopmyer. In 1945, they purchased the Zenner Brothers farm, changed its name, and operated the Shopmyer Brothers Dairy until 1956. Other principals in the dairy, according to Ruth (wife of James) Shopmyer’s recollections, were the brothers’ mother, Adelma, and their aunt, Hildegarde, who was a teacher at Howe Elementary School for 39 years.  

James Shopmyer told Larry Hart in 1980 that they “weren’t really in competition with Cousin [Robert’s] dairy business, not in the sense of trying to win customers.”  Regionally, there were enough customers for both dairies; it was more properly a matter of establishing and serving delivery routes, “so as not to have to travel too far for only a few deliveries.”

The brothers’ business ended when the property was purchased by G.E. Research; within days of purchase, the farm buildings were razed.  

Former Niskayuna Town Board member Dick Shopmyer — son of Ray Shopmyer and great-grandson of Christian — led me to the site of the farm in the fall of 2019. However, getting past the brush (and ticks) to find remnants of the farm was impossible at the time.

In January of this year, I had better luck and was able to locate what appears to be the foundation of some structure as well as areas of mostly broken glass bottles. I did find a few bottles that have survived 64 years with little damage.

Their survival harkens back and teaches us something about what Niskayuna once was.  

Author’s Note: We encourage any past or present town residents to contact the Niskayuna Town Historian, Denis Brennan, at [email protected] regarding any information, resources, or stories they might like to share about Niskayuna’s distinctive history.

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