WILLIAM G. MERRITT. The history of the dairy and creamery industry of Barton County centers largely around one man, William G. Merritt of Great Bend. In the forty years he has spent in this section of Kansas he has been both busy and modest, and has seldom told his experiences, consequently his work has not received as much publicity as has been given to some other Kansas dairymen.
Mr. Merritt was a young man when he came to Kansas, and had previously lived in Illinois and Iowa. He is of substantial English ancestry and the early members of the family were New Jersey people. His father, George P. Merritt, was born in Ohio in 1810 and in 1835 became one of the early settlers along the Illinois River Valley in Putnam County, Illinois. At that time Chicago was a village, and though he hauled grain to market there, he, like many others, could see little future to the city. During his early youth in Philadelphia he had worked as a journeyman brick layer and was also a brickmaker in Illinois. As a contractor he erected many buildings over his section of that state, and some of them are no doubt still standing. He finally gave up contracting and was a farmer the rest of his life. He came to Kansas in 1887 and died at Great Bend in 1889. The maiden name of his wife was Eliza P. Hough. She was born in Pennsylvania and was left an orphan when a child. She died at Great Bend in April, 1903. There were two sons, Charles, who died in Iowa, and William G.
William G. Merritt was born in Putnam County, Illinois, August 3, 1857, and in 1866 moved with his parents to Iowa. He acquired his education in the public schools and at Mount Pleasant learned the tinner's trade. Just before coming west he was associated with a hardware merchant at Mount Pleasant. On coming to Kansas he started from Henry County, Iowa, shipping a carload of stock and implements and unloaded his goods at Great Bend in January, 1880. He had already bought a tract of land west of Great Bend, and his intention on coming to the state was to become a farmer and grain grower. For the first five years he had a practically uninterrupted succession of failures as a wheat raiser. In only one of these seasons was there enough grain raised to claim a profit on the crop. He then moved from his first place to a farm which had more grass and one better adapted to livestock, a business he then resorted to as more reliable than straight grain farming. After the second five year period prosperity seemed measurably assured. He raised stock chiefly for the increase and what could be sold at the market and it was not until 1889 that he gave any serious attention to the selling and marketing of cream.
In that year he became interested in some of the first efforts to promote a local milk and dairy industry, and took some stock in the pioneer creamery enterprise. He not only was a stockholder but was an earnest worker for the success of the business and later was made manager of the creamery at Heizer. About that time he leased his farm and moved to Heizer. This was the first farmers' creamery in Barton County. Mr. Merritt took charge of it in 1891. Two years later he sold his interest in the Heizer plant and coming to Great Bend opened the Great Bend Creamery in the fall of 1894. It was a small plant, with only a few customers, and its growth for several years was gradual. From time to time stations were established over the country tributary to Great Bend, and after about five years of persistent labor on the part of Mr. Merritt the institution had a promising future. Practically all the butter product of the creamery was marketed at outside points. For one month the experiment was tried of making cheese, but was then abandoned as unprofitable. Probably the factor which has contributed most to the success of the Great Bend Creamery is the fall wheat pasture. While wheat is getting its first growth during the fall and early winter months and in the spring the dairy cattle in Barton County have the richest pasturage, and there is more milk or cream marketed at that season than at any other period of the year. May, 1914, marked the highest period in the history of the Great Bend Creamery. In that month 380,000 pounds of butter was manufactured from the cream gathered from the surrounding territory.
Several times the plant has been remodeled and once rebuilt to replace new plants destroyed by fire, and in 1909 a consolidation was effected with the Larned Creamery under the name "Meriitt-Schwier Creamery Company." This plant has a capital of $50,000. Mr. Merritt became president, William Schwier, vice president, and W. F. Schwier secretary. On June 1, 1918, the Merritt & Schwier interest was sold and the organization and operation continues under the old name.
The facts brought out in this brief record show that Mr. Merritt is entitled to be called one of the fathers of the creamery industry in Barton County, and as Mrs. Merritt has shared in many of the labors and plans she might also he called the mother of the industry. Mr. Merritt is a member of the State Dairy Association, and while no one has taken a greater interest in the business of dairying than he, his work has been done quietly and he has never sought advertisement for his achievement.
This unobtrusive side of his character perhaps accounts for the fact that he has never been active in politics. He was a prohibitionist even when that cause was not popular, and in the main has voted the republican ticket for president. Mrs. Merritt began her voting as a republican. She is a member of the Methodist Church and Mr. Merritt is a Royal Arch and Knight Templar Mason. Their home is a rural one, although within the city limits of Great Bend and stands guard, as it were, at the portals of the dairy industry to the upbuilding of which the Merritts have contributed so much.
On March 1, 1881, in Barton County, Kansas, Mr. Merritt married Miss Alice Limbocker. Her parents came to this county in 1878 from Winterset, Iowa. Her father was a native of Indiana and her mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Carson, was born in Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. Limbocker died in 1882 of smallpox at Ottawa, Kansas. They left two children, Mrs. Merritt and Gerry Limbocker, the latter also of Great Bend. Mrs. Merritt received a common school education in Iowa and as a wife and mother she shared all the adversities and struggles of the early days in Barton County. Mr. and Mrs. Merritt have three children. Mary Edith, the oldest, is the wife of Otis F. Bohlinger, of Clark County, Kansas, whose family consists of six children, named Gwendolyn, Blanche, Merritt, Dorothy, Virginia and Otis F., Jr. George E. Merritt, the older son of Mr. and Mrs. Merritt, has served in two wars. When he was about sixteen years old he enlisted in the Twenty-First Kansas Infantry for the Spanish-American war, and spent most of that year at Chickamauga Park. In the great war with Germany he joined the aviation branch of the navy and in December, 1918, returned to the United States from France after six months of interesting and dangerous experience on the western front. He married Margaret Johnson, and their union has given Mr. and Mrs. Merritt two other grandchildren, Roy and Reta. The youngest child is Frederick Charles Merritt, now district foreman and plant chief of the Bell Telephone Company at Billings, Montana. He married Florence Lee and has a son, Frederick, Jr.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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