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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Dairy Queen: Grace Garrett Durand

Grace Garrett Durand with her cows. Crab Tree Farm, circa 1910.

Grace Garrett Durand (1867-1948), founder of Crab Tree Farm in Lake Bluff, Illinois, was one of the most forward thinking dairy farmers of her day. Through her philanthropic nature and society connections she advanced children’s health and the production of clean milk.

Durand was born in Burlington, Iowa to Martha Rorer and William Garrett. 
Grace’s ties to the Chicago area likely began with her brother’s marriage to Miss Ada Sawyer in 1884. Ada was the daughter of one Chicago's “pioneer druggists,” Dr. Sidney Sawyer. 

In February 1888, Ada Sawyer Garrett and her mother, Elizabeth Sawyer, gave Grace an “elegant reception" at their home. This may have been Grace’s formal introduction to Chicago society. In the following years, 
Chicago’s Inter Ocean newspaper would note Dr. and Mrs. Sawyers’ travels with Miss Grace Garrett as their guest. 

Society page notice of the reception in honor of Grace Garrett. The Inter Ocean, Chicago, February 5, 1888.

Grace had quickly become the darling of social circles for her “sweet winning face and vivacious manner.” The Sawyers took her to New York where they stayed at the Windsor Hotel, and wintered together at the famed luxury resort, the Hotel Alcazar—today’s Lightner Museum—in St. Augustine, Florida.

On news of her mother’s declining health, Grace returned home to Iowa to care for her. Martha Garrett died in February 1893.

In April 1894, Grace married wealthy sugar broker, Scott Sloan Durand of Lake Forest. Their wedding was held in Burlington, Iowa “in the presence of a brilliant assemblage of invited guests.”
Grace’s maid of honor was the famous watercolor artist and illustrator, Maud Humphrey (1868-1940) of New York. Today, Maud is better known as the mother of Hollywood legend, Humphrey Bogart.
Sketch of Grace Garrett for an article titled, "Two Fond Hearts United," on the occasion of her marriage to Scott Durand. 
Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 6, 1894.

The Inter Ocean reported that the bride wore a “Queen Louise gown of white satin… and a white veil trimmed in duchesse lace.” At this point in her life, Grace was considered a “lady of fashion.” Within a few years, newspapers would spend less time talking about her clothes and more about her leadership qualities.

The newlyweds returned to Lake Forest and in 1896 built a new home on 20 acres at the northeast corner of Sheridan Road and Crabtree Lane. When Lake Forest held its first election for the Board of Education in May 1897, Durand was motivated to run. This was also the first time Lake Forest women could vote. Grace Durand and Miss Mary Neimeyer were elected to the board. 

At the turn of the century, Durand shifted her focus to dairy farming as she became aware of infant mortality rates in Chicago linked to contaminated milk. Impure milk was a problem that had been combatted with varying success for centuries, but with the rapid growth of cities the problem was exacerbated. 
Inspired by her mother’s example of helping others, Grace saw a desperate need to provide clean milk to children.

In 1904, Durand established Crab Tree dairy farm on her Lake Forest property. However, her neighbors were not enamored of having a dairy herd in the neighborhood. Some complained of the “odor and flies” and that the herd’s “bawling” kept them awake at night. 

Artist's fanciful illustration of Grace Durand astride one of her dairy cows. Washington Herald, November 28. 1915.

In 1906, the Durands’ purchased 256-acres, formerly owned by Judge Henry W. Blodgett, on Sheridan Road north of Lake Bluff. Grace marched her cows up the road to the new farm. Her dairy operation was celebrated in newspapers across the nation. The New Castle Herald noted that Durand sold: “the purest of milk… at a profit in air tight silver jugs.” Grace even enrolled in a farmer’s ten-day course at the Wisconsin University College of Agriculture in Madison, WI.
An article in Pearson’s Magazine explained how Grace’s visit to Chicago's “tenement district revealed… most of the infant mortality was due to the want of nourishment, which meant good milk, and that good milk was a rare commodity, difficult to procure, even at exorbitant prices.” Durand used the profits from selling milk and thick cream to Chicago’s most select hotels, restaurants and tea rooms to support needy children.

In 1910, several buildings on her farm were lost to fire. Durand "tearfully" sold her herd, because she could not get barns built before winter. The Durands commissioned Chicago architect, Solon S. Beman (1853 - 1914) to design her new ideal model dairy farm. It was the only farm complex Beman designed.

Crab Tree Farm buildings designed by Solon S. Beman and Durand's new herd of cows, circa 1911. Private collection
Durand was known to pamper her cows and referred to them as her "pets." She enlisted the unusual method of playing opera music while the cows were milked. Grace claimed the music made the cows happy and consequently their milk tasted better and was more nutritious. 

With her success in raising standards in dairying, Durand began to be called the “dairy queen.” 

Dairy farmers were eager to learn the "dairy queen's" methods at the Farmer's Institute
 in Edwardsville, IL. Mantoon Journal Gazette, February 17, 1910.
She became a popular lecturer at farmers’ institutes across the Midwest, sharing her experiences in dairy work, and belief in hygienic and systematic methods to enhance dairy products. Her “charming manner and decisiveness impressed” all who heard her. 

Unfortunately, Durand had setbacks in her dairy operations. In fall 1915, her herd was confirmed to have Foot and Mouth Disease, a highly infectious viral disease of hooved animals. Crab Tree Farm was one of many in the region suffering from the disease. Durand fought the diagnosis through litigation, but lost her legal battle in the Illinois Supreme Court. Consequently, the herd was destroyed. Of course, the tenacious Durand began again. 

In addition to dairy farming, Durand supported the prevention and treatment of Tuberculosis. She was one of the incorporators of the Lake County Tuberculosis Institute (Waukegan) in October 1908, along with Dr. Elva A. Wright (1868-1950) of Lake Forest. 

In July 1932, the Durand family made news when their adopted son Jack Durand received a letter threatening to kidnap his 2-year old daughter unless he handed over $50,000 (nearly $1 million today).
Grace Durand outwitted criminals in a plot to kidnap her grandchild. 
The Times, Streator, Illinois. July 12, 1932.

The police were notified of the threat and waiting at Jack Durand's home. However, the would-be kidnappers went mistakenly to Grace Durand's home at Crab Tree Farm and asked for him. A "quick thinking" Grace told them that Jack would be home soon and they should have a seat on the porch to wait. Meanwhile, she phoned the police. Perhaps it was her persuasive personality, but oddly enough the thugs waited as suggested and were rounded up when the police arrived. 

Grace was also a Temperance advocate and member of the Lake Bluff chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It was more than a little embarrassing when her husband Scott Durand was indicted for selling 30 million pounds of sugar (from 1929 to 1932) to persons who used it to manufacture liquor.
Grace Durand as featured in Harper's Weekly, May 9, 1914.

Dairy operations ceased when Grace Durand died on February 26, 1948. During her lifetime she was recognized as one of the “most powerful leaders in the milk crusade.” 

Following Durand's death, William McCormick Blair (1884-1982) and his wife, Helen Bowen Blair (1890-1972), purchased Crab Tree Farm. The Blairs association with Durand had begun in 1926, with the purchase of 11-acres of the farm overlooking Lake Michigan. 

Since 1985, Durand’s Crab Tree Farm has been owned by the John H. Bryan family. The property is still a working farm, and the original historic buildings have been renovated and now display collections of American and English Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative arts.

Special thanks to Laurie Stein, Curator at the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff, for additional research and enthusiasm for this topic. 

- Diana Dretske

Crab Tree Farm,
History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff,
Olmstead, Alan L. and Paul W. Rhode. Arresting Contagion: Science, Policy, and Conflicts Over Animal Disease Control. Harvard University Press, 2015.
“Garrett, Timothy M.” Chicago City Directory, 1882.
“Past Pleasures.” The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, February 5, 1888.
“Durand—Garrett.” The Daily Leader, Davenport, Iowa, April 1, 1894.
“Two Fond Hearts United.The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois. April 6, 1894.
American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 25. 1894.
“Lake Forest Dames Vote: Five Run for Office and Two Win at the Ballot.” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1897.
“Mrs. Scott Durand a Student.” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois. February 5, 1908. 
“Dairy Queen Is To Speak.” Journal Gazette, Mantoon, Illinois. February 17, 1910.
Saint Maur, Kate V. “Mrs. Scott Durand - Milk Woman.” Pearson's Magazine, July 1910.
Mrs. Durand Tearfully Orders Dairy Pets Sold.The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois. November 8, 1910.
Mrs. Durand: A Twentieth Century Product. Harper's Weekly, May 9, 1914.
“The Gentile Woman Farmer and Her Fight to Save Her $30,000 Herd.” Washington Herald, Washington, D.C. November 28,    1915.
“3 Suspects in Kidnaping Plot. The Times, Streator, Illinois. July 12, 1932.
“Arrests Nip Durand Baby $50,000 Kidnapping Plot.” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 13, 1932.
“Wealthy Broker, Mate of Rum Foe, Indicted by U.S." The Decatur Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, February 17, 1933.